Before we got fully engulfed in Stadiumania, we were going through and taking a look at the players that the Vikings selected in the 2012 NFL Draft. Today, we will feature a player that came off as a bit of a surprise pick to most Vikings fans, that being USC tight end/fullback Rhett Ellison.
Much like the Vikings' other draftee from Southern California, offensive tackle Matt Kalil, Ellison has some pretty solid bloodlines in professional football. His father was Riki Ellison, who also attended Southern Cal, playing linebacker for the Trojans. A native New Zealander, the first in NFL history, Riki Ellison got two Super Bowl rings as a member of the San Francisco 49ers before finishing his career with the Los Angeles Raiders. The Niners drafted him in the fifth round of the 1983 NFL Draft (#117 overall). Interestingly, Riki Ellison is the founder and chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a non-profit organization with the mission to advocate for the deployment and development of a missile defense system.
(By the by, former Viking David Dixon was the second New Zealander in NFL history if you're scoring at home. Or even if you're not.)
Getting back to the younger Ellison, he came to USC as a tight end, and red-shirted the 2007 season. In his first two seasons with the Trojans in 2008 and 2009, he spent a lot of time as a backup tight end, catching a total of just 10 passes in those two seasons for 99 yards and one touchdown.
As a junior in 2010, he started becoming a real contributor to the USC offense, starting all 13 games for the Trojans. Over the course of the season, he caught 21 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns, which was enough to garner an Honorable Mention on the All-Pac Ten team that season.
After spending his entire USC career at tight end, Ellison moved to fullback for his senior year in 2011. He actually caught more passes as a fullback (22) than he did in his best year as a tight end, but only averaged six yards per reception. He had an impact on special teams as well, being named All-Pac 12 first-team as a special teams player this past season. He was also a team captain for the Trojans, and was named the recipient of their Team Leadership Award for the 2011 season.
With the ability to line up at either the tight end or the fullback spot, Ellison appears to have been drafted with at least the thought that one day he could replace that most favorite of many Minnesota Vikings fans, retired tight end/fullback Jim Kleinsasser. Ellison was even given Kleinsasser's #40, the same number he wore in college for USC. Now, nobody is expecting him to step in and be Jim Kleinsasser right away, but there's reason to think that Ellison could eventually develop into such a role. He's got pretty decent size at 6'5" and 250 pounds, and could probably add even more weight without sacrificing anything in the way of athleticism.
If nothing else, Ellison will likely make an immediate impact on Minnesota's special teams, and work in as a third tight end behind Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson on offense. . .or, he could end up as the team's starting fullback, depending on what happens during training camp. After all, if there's one thing this team could use, it's MOAR FULLBACK, am I right?