The Vikings decision to trade up in the 3rd round to get Pat Elflein was seen as a good move by most media analysts. The Vikings needed help along their offensive line, and Elflein was seen by many as the best center in the draft.
Hard to argue that point, as Elflein won the Rimington award for best college center last season, along with the Big 10 Lineman of the Year award, and was a consensus All-American.
During the 2016 season, when he played center, Elflein didn’t give up a sack over the first 12 games of the season, and only 2 hits and 9 hurries in pass protection. But over the last two games- against Michigan and Clemson- he gave up 3 sacks and a hurry. Overall for the season, Elflein had only a 46.5 pass blocking rating from PFF, which was a significant drop from previous years at guard. Part of the reason for the lower grade was his 7 penalties. But whatever the reason, the poor pass protection rating last year is concerning.
Against the run, Elflein continued to rate well- as he did his previous two years at guard- earning a 83.8 PFF rating. And typically with a center, run blocking is viewed as more important than pass protection- just as with a nose tackle being a run stuffer is more important than pressuring the QB.
Nevertheless, the pass protection issue is concerning.
Watching Elflein’s game film against Michigan and Clemson doesn’t leave you feeling as good about Elflein’s ability as a plug-and-play starter this season either. Let’s break it down.
This first thing to say about both of these game films on Elflein, is that his competition in both games is NFL caliber. Most of the guys he went against in these games were drafted, and in the 4th round or earlier.
In the first game against Michigan, Elflein gave up 2 sacks. One was to Taco Charlton, who the Cowboys took in the first round. On that play Elflein’s assignment was to kick outside and pass protect against the DE - something he was asked to do several times as part of the OSU pass pro scheme. It proved to be a mismatch as Charlton had no trouble getting around Elflein- who really doesn’t have the athleticism to play outside in space. I don’t see him being asked to do that at the NFL-level though.
The second sack Elflein gave up was on a LB blitz, and he simply didn’t get there to prevent the sack. Whether recognition or quickness was to blame, he just missed it.
Apart from the two sacks, Elflein may have been at least partially responsible for a TFL in the run game, but otherwise held up pretty well.
One thing you pick up on watching his game film is how he uses his wrestling background as a blocker. The comment about his ‘torqueing’ defenders can be seen in both these games, in run and pass blocking. That ability/technique serves him well.
The other thing is you see is how he has trouble making blocks in space at the 2nd level. You see him free and looking for somebody to block, but he often has difficulty hitting a moving target in space, unless it’s coming straight at him.
The last thing you notice is that while he is effective most of the time, he seldom dominates. Often after anchoring and giving some ground, he’ll manage to stand a guy up and hold him off long enough, but seldom does he really blow a guy up or totally take him out of a play. The one exception is with his drive blocks in the run game, where he can move guys pretty well.
In the Clemson game - the Fiesta Bowl where OSU got blown out by Clemson- Elflein gave up a sack to Carlos Watkins- drafted in the 4th round I believe - on a DT twist. Again whether recognition or quickness, Elflein didn’t get in position to make the block.
Apart from that sack, which happened in the 4th quarter with Clemson up 24-0 I believe, Elflein was responsible for at least one TFL in run blocking.
But for the most part in the Clemson game, Elflein was a relative bright spot in an offensive line that got dominated. Elflein himself did not dominate, but he held up well for the most part in both run blocking and pass protection, but again with the same issues as in the Michigan game. These are not deal breakers by any means, but they are areas for improvement.
I only saw one penalty on Elflein- he was called for a mis-snap in the Clemson game- but otherwise I didn’t notice any holding, etc.
Overall, perhaps it’s unfair to judge Elflein too much on these two games- perhaps his two worst - and the fact that the OSU offensive line didn’t fare well overall in both games can bias your perspective as well. But both games were against NFL-level competition, and so provide some insight into how Elflein may fare as a Viking initially.
I suspect Elflein will be helped if the Vikings go with a zone-blocking scheme as expected, but he’ll need to gain greater recognition of stunts and blitzes so he can position himself more effectively, and hopefully become more of a finisher.
If he can do that, and continue to generate movement in his run blocks, other more stylistic points become less important, and he should go on to be that plug-and-play center he has been billed as. I look forward to seeing how he does in training camp against Linval Joseph and in pre-season games too.
How well do you think Pat Elflein will do overall if he starts at center this year?
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