The folks over at Pro Football Focus are in the middle of their "Secret Superstar" series. This is something that PFF does every off-season where they go through each NFL team and spotlights a player that they've graded pretty highly that not everyone outside of die-hard fans knows about.
This year, the player they've chosen to spotlight for the Minnesota Vikings is tight end/fullback Rhett Ellison. One of Minnesota's three fourth-round selections in the 2012 NFL Draft, the rookie out of Southern California got a lot of respect from the folks at PFF for his abilities, particularly in the run game. They even suggest that Ellison may have. . .and I hope you're sitting down for this one. . .replaced fan favorite Jim Kleinsasser.
Jim Kleinsasser was drafted by the Vikings in the second round of the 1999 draft. He spent the next 12 seasons splitting time at fullback and tight end, and was one of the best blockers in the league over that span. When he retired after the 2011 season, the Vikings needed someone new to handle the void he'd left behind. They drafted Rhett Ellison from USC in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Most draft experts saw Ellison as a late-round pick at best. Ellison, himself, had not expected to be drafted this high, and was out fishing when he received the call from the Vikings.
Though three inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than Kleinsasser, Rhett stepped right in where Jimmy K had left off, and the Vikings didn't miss a beat. In fact, Ellison graded out higher in his rookie season than Kleinsasser did in any of his final three seasons, although Kleinsasser played significantly more snaps per year.
Well, in Ellison's defense, he was splitting time with a pretty good tight end in Kyle Rudolph and a fullback that went to the Pro Bowl in Jerome Felton. But for a guy that really didn't expect to be drafted, he performed very well in 2012. Between Ellison, left tackle Matt Kalil, safety Harrison Smith, and kicker Blair Walsh, it's pretty hard to class the Vikings' 2012 draft class as anything but a home run at this point. . .and it could be a grand slam if Josh Robinson and Jarius Wright continue developing and Greg Childs can get back on the field.