One of the traits that has defined the Minnesota Vikings draft process in recent years has been the need to be aggressive when they see a player they covet and drop back and accumulate picks when there isn’t that specific player that they’re convinced can make the biggest impact for the position they’re being drafted.
For the second time Friday, General Manager Rick Spielman made an aggressive play – this time moving up nine spots in the third round to grab offensive lineman Pat Elflein of Ohio State.
The biggest question at the moment is where is Elflein going to play – center or guard? You can make a case for either. He was a two-time All-Big 10 guard in 2014-15 before moving inside to center last season. How did he respond to the move? He won the Rimington Award, given annually to college football’s top center.
Even Elflein isn’t sure exactly what his role will be with the Vikings. When asked if he sees himself being assigned to one spot or the other, Elflein said he thinks his versatility was what got the interest of the Vikings to move up to snag him.
“Not exactly,” Elflein said. “I think that’s a reason why they picked me. I can play either very well. Wherever I can fit in and help the team, that’s my goal. I’m ready to come in and work.”
Just as he had done with second-round pick Dalvin Cook, when Spielman saw how the board was laying out and that a run was starting on offensive linemen, he wasn’t going to sit still and hope that Elflein would remain until their pick came up.
He knew what he wanted and went after it.
“As we were sitting there watching the board unfold, you could get a sense that those offensive linemen were going to come off there and did not feel if we sat where we were in the third round that we would get one of those guys that we had targeted,” Spielman said. “We wanted to be aggressive to go up and get Pat. He’s a tone-setter up front. He can play center or play guard – you can ask the coaches once he gets in here, we’ll figure out the best spot to put him in.”
With experience at a high level at both the guard and center positions, Elflein said he feels more natural as a guard, simply because he played that position for four years and only spent last season as a center.
He is confident that can play at a high level at either spot, which is why he was willing to move inside and was rewarded with the Rimington Award. Although he had never played center for Ohio State in game situations until 2016, it wasn’t new to him and he was ready to embrace the challenge.
“I’ve always been the backup center at Ohio State, so I’ve always gotten reps,” Elflein said. “It wasn’t a very tough transition, but it was awesome going in there and being able to play like that and winning an award like that with so many great centers that have gone before me and won that.”
Elflein isn’t coming in completely blind to the Vikings organization. He’s already formed a bond with Vikings guard Alex Boone, another OSU alum. Even though his first trip to Winter Park will be his first, he already has a foot in the door because of his association with Boone.
“In the offseason, I train in the same place Alex does in Phoenix, Arizona,” Elflein said. “What a guy that is – a natural leader, a great football player and a great mentor to me. The first day that I walked in, the dude has so much knowledge of the game. He’s already given me a bunch of information on what this whole process is about and the whole NFL in general. He’s been great to me so far.”
Elflein has been praised by his coaches at Ohio State for his strong leadership and Spielman said he likes the tenacity with which he plays and the toughness and physicality he can bring to the Vikings offensive line, which was one of the most ineffective lines in the league last year.
He hopes to set an example, but, as the new kid in town, likely isn’t going to be overly vocal because his job is going to be learning the offense and doing his part in improving the line. It will come with time, but this season isn’t the time for him to speak up or speak out.
He has leadership qualities in him, but isn’t ready to anoint himself anywhere close to that yet.
“I like to think I did at Ohio State, but that’s not the approach I’m looking to come in and do as a rookie,” Elflein said. “I’m going to come to work every day, I want to shut my mouth, work as hard as I can and try to earn the respect of my teammates just by doing what I do. That’s my mentality going into it.”
In Elflein, the Vikings got themselves a player they’re convinced can be a staple of the offensive line for years to come and he is looking forward to the challenge of being a mainstay on the O-line and is glad the Vikings are giving him that opportunity.
“I want to thank the whole Vikings organization for giving me a chance and picking me in the third round,” Elflein said. “I’m very excited about this opportunity and I’m going to give everything I’ve got to the whole Minnesota Vikings organization. I couldn’t be more excited or happier to be in the place I am.”