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NFL breakout players 2018: Can Nick Vannett be the red zone threat the Seahawks need?

The third-year tight end was buried on the depth chart. Now, he’s got the chance to score a lot of touchdowns.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks knew they wouldn’t need Nick Vannett to set the world on fire right away. They spent a third-round pick on Vannett in 2016, a year after they traded for Jimmy Graham. That first season, Vannett was as low as fourth on the depth chart at times behind Graham, Luke Willson, and Brandon Williams.

Last spring, Williams signed with the Colts, which allowed Vannett to move up to at least third team and make a decent contribution to the team, primarily as an extra blocker on running plays. He even ended up starting four games.

Heading into the 2018 season with both Graham and Willson gone, it is finally Vannett’s time.

He has an excellent opportunity to step up into the full-time starter’s role this season and flourish in that offense.

At 6’6 and 261 pounds, Vannett gives Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson a huge target in the passing game. Vannett is not just some big lug, either. He looks fluid and fast running routes up the field, and he has some pretty good hands as well.

Unlike Graham, Vannett is also a damn good blocker, which means he won’t be a liability when the Seahawks want to run the ball. Vannett probably won’t ever be the receiving threat that Graham is, but he is a lot more well-rounded than Graham. He may not make the spectacular catch, but there will be plenty of opportunities for him to make a gang of “routine” receptions this season.

What’s interesting is there’s no way to know what Vannett’s ceiling is right now, because he hasn’t really had a lot of playing time or targets. Last season, when he didn’t get many reps in the passing game, he only had 12 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown in 15 games. If he can stay healthy this season, he may come close to getting more targets in one game as a starter than he ended up with all of last year (15) as, essentially, the third-team guy.

For all I know, he might well be a guy who can make spectacular Graham-esque catches too, but he just hasn’t been given a chance up till now.

With his combination of size and athleticism, there is certainly a good chance that Vannett will actually end up being one hell of a red zone threat.

What I do know for sure, is that when I watch him on tape the kid does not seem to lack for confidence or swagger in the least. I don’t think the pressure of being the starter now will bother him at all, either. In fact, he may well thrive on it.

If Vannett can just make the routine catches as a starter this season, he should see a huge jump in production. I think he is going to do much more than that this year, however.

Confidence level: High