Shortly into the free-agent signing period, the San Diego Chargers made the decision to re-sign Antonio Gates while allowing Ladarius Green to move on. Whether or not that decision comes back to bite them remains to be seen, but Gates isn’t getting any younger.
As a result, the Chargers will need to look to the draft for a tight end that can come in and be developed. The recent signing of former New York Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland changes nothing. Cumberland brings experience, but he’s never been an impact player.
If the Chargers don’t believe a player such as Stanford’s Austin Hooper is the answer, Nick Vannett could be a solid choice in the later rounds.
Nick Vannett's blocking ability will get him on the field early. Projects as a big time red zone weapon as well.
— IDthe22 (@idthe22) April 2, 2016
Vannett never displayed the ability to be a great pass-catcher at Ohio State, but that was mostly because he wasn’t used much in the passing game. As a run-blocker, however, he was terrific. Vannett routinely opened holes for potential first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott, doing so with perfect technique. Those kinds of holes in the running game were largely absent in San Diego, so drafting a player like Vannett could bring a big smile to the face of Melvin Gordon.
Potentially, he could become a trusted target in the passing game as well. At 6’6″ and 260 pounds, he provides a big target down the field who is not easy to bring down. Learning behind Gates, he could refine his ability to find the soft spot in the defense and sit down in the secondary to make catches. Just because Ohio State didn’t use him in that capacity, doesn’t mean he can’t do it.
The Chargers have several positions to address in the upcoming draft, but finding a good, young prospect at the tight end position should be on that list. Cumberland, Asante Cleveland and Sean McGrath aren’t the answer. The Chargers will be able to get away with Gates and one of those guys this season, but building the position toward the future is necessary.
This isn’t a great draft for receiving tight ends, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a better blocking option than Vannett. Best yet, the Chargers could find Vannett in the third—possibly even the fourth—round. He would bring good value at that spot.
Scouting Combine Numbers (via NFL.com)
Bench Press: 17 reps
Vertical Jump: 30.5 inches
Broad Jump: 9 feet, 3 inches
3-cone drill: 7.05 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.20 seconds
60-yard shuttle: 11.50 seconds
Pro Day Numbers
40-yard dash: 4.85 seconds
Vertical Jump: 29.5 inches
Broad Jump: 9 feet, 5 inches
Vannett has an NFL-ready physique and athleticism to go with it. He will be taken on the second day of the draft and he should be high on San Diego’s wish list.