Heading into 2017, Pat Elflein brings above average intelligence and awareness to a new-look offensive line. Find out why he was the perfect fit for the Vikings.
Updated: June 13, 2017 2:30 p.m.
By: Daniel House
Updated: June 13, 2017 2:30 p.m.
By: Daniel House
With all of the offensive line woes the Vikings faced last season, they desperately needed to find an anchor in the middle of the unit. Ohio State center Pat Elflein is the perfect fit. His above average awareness, intelligence, and mean streak mesh perfectly with the brand of football the Vikings play. Elflein played guard until his senior season and made the transition to center. In his one year at the position, he won the Rimington Award for top center in the nation. He learned all of the calls and technique for the position in a short period of time, becoming one of the best center's in the country.
When he needs work, Elflein does a great job of getting to the second level and finding defenders. He is a mauler in the running game and isn't afraid to stick his nose into the pile. There were so many moments on tape where Elfein's last-second decision to lay a block, sprung a huge gain. In the clip below, Elflein seals off the edge at the last moment, opening a lane for quarterback J.T. Barrett to reach the end zone.
In the next clip, Elflein is pulling to the second level and delivers a massive punch with strong inside hands to knock the linebacker out of the play. He does a great job of washing defenders out of plays when he gets to the second level. Not to mention, he has the vision to find those players, while turning the corner. It is clear to see he is a natural player because of his extensive experience at the position. He plays with strong confidence, intelligence, and poise, which makes up for some of his potential limits as an athlete.
More importantly, he plays with a mean streak through the whistle. He will power through the intital defender and look for more at the second level. He is a strong finisher and gets insane leverage/push when he is blocking on the goal-line. Elflein also recognizes stunts up front and makes calls to adjust. He sometimes has trouble when blitzers come downhill and he has to help out. Elflein is definitely stronger as a run blocker than a pass protector.
However, I'm most impressed with his strong hand technique. He gets inside position and drives through nose tackles with his strong base. He moves best when he gets a head of steam going north and south. He isn't a player that moves extremely well laterally. At times, his footwork has a tendency plod, but he compensates for this by finding defenders and settling into his strong base. More athletic players have a tendency to cause Elflein to whiff in traffic, but this isn't necessarily a consistent problem.
In the clip below, Elflein pulls to the outside, finds a linebacker, and delivers a strong punch as he settles into his base. He diagnoses the need to block him, uses vision to find the defender, anchors down, and gets inside hand position. Elflein drives through the player until the whistle and shows his mean streak. In all situations, his hands and footwork are constantly in sync, which helps him explode out of his stance to gain control. It is clear to see his passion for getting into the trenches and putting players on their backs. In some instances, he is too aggressive and fans on those blocks. However, his intensity is what you want, especially as a run blocker.
As I noted above, Elflein's weaknesses are in pass protection. I particularly noticed issues when defenders used a bull-rush to exploit his lack of upper body strength. He had a tendency to get off balance and lunge in those situations. However, I only saw this when he played guard in 2015. When he made the transition to center, his pass protection progressively improved. The clip below is what I saw on a consistent basis. He won with a strong punch, gaining inside hand position to control the defender. Elflein held his block with a strong/base anchor. His center of gravity and lower body strength are very impressive in all of his tape. When Elflein gets into trouble, it's usually due to high pad level. In the instances where he stays low, allowing his hand technique and strong base take over, he is very difficult to move.
Overall, I don't think there was a better fit for the Vikings or Elflein in this draft. He will be an immediate upgrade at center, significantly bolstering the inside of the offensive line. In my eyes, Eflein was one of the most polished products in this draft class. He has a few flaws in his game (specifically as a pass protector), but they will continue to improve with more coaching.
Sliding Joe Berger over to right guard and inserting Eflein will solidly the interior. The Vikings used free agency to address the tackle spots, which was necessary. With three new offensive lineman up front, the group will have a new look. As I noted in a previous post, the group must improve to "average" if the Vikings want to take the next step offensively.
The addition of Elfein will only increase the chance of accomplishing this goal. He brings solid technique, intelligence, above average awareness, and physicality to a Vikings offensive line in need of those characteristics.