Vannett worth fifth-round pick? So far, so good


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Nick Vannett (88) stares downfield after making a catch against the Bengals Monday night at Heinz Field. – MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Nick Vannett owns a spotless 2-0 record at Heinz Field this season — which is odd, considering the Steelers are just 1-3 overall and 1-1 at home in 2019.

It's a quirk not lost on Vannett.

"I want to keep that streak going," Vannett said with a laugh at his locker after the Steelers' 27-3 win over the Bengals Monday night.

Vannett was acquired by the Steelers from the Seahawks — who defeated the Steelers at Heinz Field in Week 2, 28-26 — leading into the team's Week 4 AFC North showdown. The move cost the Steelers a fifth-round draft pick in 2020, but after Vance McDonald suffered a shoulder injury against the 49ers in Week 3 and backup tight end Xavier Grimble was sent to injured reserve, the team found itself in need of help at the position.


Enter Vannett, who strolled into the Rooney Complex with just days to prep for the Steelers' primetime matchup against the Bengals. Prior to the game, Vannett expressed his desire to showcase his complete skill set.

"I just can’t wait to show the player that I am in all aspects — run game, pass game, pass protection," he was saying after his first official, on-field practice with the team on Wednesday.

He wanted to show he could catch passes. So he did this:

He wanted to show he could block, too. So he did this:

The catch, a beautiful adjustment coming back to the ball for the first down on 2nd-and-15, was nice. But that block ... I mean, look at it. I froze the frame for you there at the end so you can see exactly how pivotal this was. It's certainly not perfect. Bengals safety Shawn Williams initially blows past Vannett like he doesn't exist. But Vannett adjusts, takes an angle and gets just enough of Williams on the tail end to prevent any damage.

That could've ended in an incompletion, a sack or, possibly, a fumble. If Vannett doesn't recover there, none of the alternatives are good for the Steelers. Instead, Mason Rudolph gets the ball out cleanly, and Diontae Johnson adds six more for the home team. That's how the game can swing.

So speaking with Vannett after the game, I had to ask: Is this what you were talking about? Is this the complete Vannett you wanted to unleash?

"I think I showed a little bit of [my complete skill set]," Vannett was telling me. "Like I said, there are some plays I wish I could have back, but you're not going to win every play, every one-on-one battle in this game. But, yeah, I feel like I made some plays in the passing game and we ran the ball a lot, we ran the ball hard, and we made some big yardage, so that's always huge.

"I think across the board we just executed at a high level. We played tougher than them, and I think that's what ultimately allowed us to come [out] on top tonight."

More than that, though, Vannett was just happy to be out there. Truly. He showered high praise upon the Steelers organization when he arrived, and those vibes were only amplified in the wake of the team's Monday night win.

Listen for yourself:

"Man, when I got here and I saw the fans kind of tailgating and I walked in and saw my jersey for the first time, it was surreal. It was surreal," Vannett was telling me. "Walking out there for the warm-ups and warming up in front of all the fans and putting that black and gold on officially for the first time, I mean, it was exciting ... Man, let's just keep stacking wins. Because I think the sky's the limit for this team."

Perhaps most impressive in all this is the fact Vannett had just days to prepare, then was thrust under the primetime spotlight with a heavy involvement in the offense. Vannett was seen throughout the week working with McDonald and tight ends coach James Daniel at every turn, getting personal instruction and a crash course in the Steelers offense.

"Yeah, I mean, it was tough, but like I said, there were some similarities from the place I was at previously," Vannett was saying. "Just all different verbiage and different language. It was like I was learning Spanish. But I feel like I picked it up really well. I couldn't do it on my own. [I had] the help of [Zach Gentry] and Vance and our tight end coach. Everybody else, they all helped me be prepared and be able to go out there and just play at a high level. So I couldn't do it by myself."

This marks the second straight week a Steelers player was expected to come in on short notice and make a difference on the field. Heading into their Week 3 matchup against the 49ers, the Steelers traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick, giving the safety just days to assimilate. On game day, Fitzpatrick showed up, registering five tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.

While Vannett's stat line — two catches for 28 yards — doesn't pop off the page like that, his adjustment was no less impressive in the eyes of Mike Tomlin.

"You can ditto anything that I said about Minkah last week and apply it to Nick," Tomlin said after the game. "And we talked about it on Tuesday at the press conference in that we were going to teach him what we needed him to do and try to put him in a position to contribute. And, man, we get a chance to double back and teach some broader principles in an effort to improve the quality of his play this week.

"But, man, appreciate his efforts, appreciate his contributions. It was a good week for him and us."

Vannett, meanwhile, was a little more effusive.

"I remember you guys asking me earlier in the week, like, 'Oh, are you guys worried about the 0-3 start?' The team you saw tonight, I don't think you would have figured out that we were 0-3 ...

"All across the board, that was a huge win. Offensively, special teams, defensively. As long as we play like that, I don't think anybody can stop us. We were on fire tonight. It was so much fun to be a part of. It's been a great week so far, and I can't wait to have more weeks like this."

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