Have the Vikings Found Their New Center?

With the No. 70 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select, Pat Elflein, center, Ohio State.

It’s a sentence that many fans were begging to hear for months leading up to the draft.

After a 3-8 collapse to finish the 2016 season with an 8-8 record, the offensive line was one of many key components that contributed to that. Help among that group was highly demanded.

Words you don’t like reading during the off-season, center/right guard Joe Berger contemplated retirement. Berger is arguably the teams best offensive lineman despite being the oldest (35) in the room.

He has been one of the few bright spots among a porous group that experienced 12 different combinations last season.

“We’ll probably start Elflein at center. He’s a very, very good center.” 

— Mike Zimmer

With that being said, Elflein is not a “dancing bear”, which is a scouting term that many experts love to use for an offensive lineman that are great athletes, but Elflein is an average pass protector and dominant run blocker.
One of the biggest knocks against Vikings QB Sam Bradford is his inability to step up in the pocket.
It is a huge reason why interior pressure needs to be a strong point along your offensive front when having Bradford under center.

2016 was the former Ohio State centers first season as a full-time starter at the position.

 

According to Pro Football Focus, Elflein totaled 458 pass blocking snaps, surrendering three sacks, two QB hits and 11 hurries.

All somewhat impressive stats and the country clearly took notice, as he won the Rimington Trophy, which rewards the nations top center.

Elflein is much better against interior defenders who attempt to bull-rush him because he has a tremendous ability to anchor down, while still being able to keep his feet alive.

He is known to play through the whistle, which is a trait you love to see in an offensive lineman.

Having a nasty attitude and possessing finishing ability is something that can’t be taught to blockers, which is an asset and mentality that he can bring to the middle of the Vikings offensive front.

Run blocking is an emphasis that Zimmer and Spielman were on record as saying would be a strong point when evaluating potential offensive line targets.

With the additions of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, the franchises off-season tactic proved to be true.

This facet is also where Elflein makes his money.

He’s proven to be a fantastic run blocking in his time in Columbus and it is where he made a name for himself. He displays a consistent mean streak and tries to destroy every defender that he encounters.

Fast forward to his NFL debut against the Buffalo Bills, Elflein is still standing out among the competition.

In pass protection, a trait that coaches love to see is when offensive lineman “look for work”. A simple football term, meaning that if there is no threat in the area of your designated assignment, then look to help out the others surrounding you.

In the example above, Elflein is on the “slide side” of the pass protection. He is responsible for the A gap (space between the center and the right guard). There is no immediate threat in his assigned gap, so he looks for work.

Even though the defensive tackle and the defensive end to his side are attempting to perform a twist/stunt, Elflein still goes and helps out the right guard and right tackle.

He shows his willingness to finish.

In their second pre-season game against the Seattle Seahawks, Elflein’s traits continued to be on display.

Now, on the “man-to-man side” of the pass protection, he is assigned to the nose tackle directly over the top of him.

Initially Elflein’s hand placement was bad, as they were placed on the outside of the defenders shoulders. When two players are engaged and fighting, the player who has the most inside leverage with their hands usually wins the battle.

Knowing this, Elflein continues to drive his feet, but most importantly he re-positions his hands inside. This allows him to control the path of the rusher and take him where he wants him to go.

As he has shown since his Buckeyes days, he finishes the defenders by planting him into the ground.

Despite thoroughly executing difficult pull blocks and blocks out on the perimeter at Ohio State, Elflein was labeled as a below average athlete coming into the draft.

A fair argument after his combine performance, but a debatable one.

In the example below, the Vikings are asking the rookie center to make a difficult block on a swing screen to the running back.

Elflein is responsible for the “kick out” block in the alley. A hard task for any center, but he executes it beautifully.

ELFLEIN.gif

In order to execute this block, the center must stay flat, meaning that he must go flat down the line in order to complete the block.

If he was to just go up the field any, his angle would become impossible for him to block the alley defender coming downhill on the ball-carrier.

Initially Elflein’s track was bad, but he wisely got back on his landmark by running right down the 50-yard line.

What makes it even more impressive is his ability to lay out and get just enough of the defender in order to gain yards on the swing screen.

Yes, it is just pre-season action, but Pat Elflein is off to a fast start as a pro. Locked into a battle with Nick Easton, and with his performances to date, he has put himself in the pole position to be the franchises Week 1 starter at center.

His progress and development in the final two preseason contests, and throughout the regular season will be interesting to track considering how early and well he has adjusted to the NFL.

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