Fourth-round call catches USC's Ellison off guard

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 28, 2012 - 8:20 PM

Rhett Ellison was the 128th overall pick of the NFL draft, but he might have vaulted immediately to No. 1 in pro sports when it comes to humility.

"I wasn't really expecting to get drafted or anything like that," he said Saturday, shortly after the Vikings used a fourth-round pick on the tight end/fullback from Southern California. "I was pretty shocked."

When asked if he meant he wasn't expecting to go as high as the fourth round, Ellison made sure to clarify the level of his surprise.

"I was going for not getting drafted at all," said Ellison, whose father, Riki, played 10 NFL seasons (1983-92) and won two Super Bowl rings with the 49ers.

The 6-5, 250-pound Ellison sounds like the rookie version of recently retired Jim Kleinsasser. Ellison caught only 53 passes for 471 yards (8.9) and six touchdowns in his college career, but he's also a blocking tight end and starting fullback candidate on a team looking for a No. 3 tight end grunt to block while its top two tight ends are free to catch passes.

Ellison was on a river near his home in Portola Valley, Calif., when the Vikings called.

"They asked me if I was watching the TV," Ellison said. "I said no, I'm not watching it, and they said well, you're about to be a Minnesota Viking. They put me on the phone with everybody, but I was crying pretty hard so I don't know if they understood anything I was saying."

Asked about Ellison's surprise, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said: "He's very modest. I know he was going to go right around there for a fact."

A kicker?

Ryan Longwell, who made only 78.6 percent (22 of 28) of his field-goal attempts last season and turns 38 in August, will have to fight for his job this summer. The Vikings made that clear when they surprisingly used a sixth-round pick on Georgia kicker Blair Walsh.

"He was just one of the players on our board that we felt could come in and compete," Spielman said. "... What we were looking at is just value in football players, regardless of position."

Walsh, who impressed the Vikings with his kickoffs, was the third of three kickers drafted. After the Texans and Rams took kickers within 10 spots (161st and 171st), Spielman decided to take Walsh 175th overall rather than risk waiting until the seventh round.

Spielman acknowledged Walsh's struggles in 2011, when he was 21-for-35 on field goals. Walsh said his problems last season got corrected after a bad start.

"I ended up missing early on in the season and I started pressing a little bit," he said. "I learned from it and I think I'm a better man and kicker for it."

A deal with Detroit

In his first year with final say on personnel, Spielman showed he's not shy about trading within the division. He sent his first fifth-round pick (138th overall) to the Lions for Detroit's seventh-round pick (219th overall) and its fourth-round pick next year. The Lions used the pick on Temple linebacker Tahir Whitehead.

As for the predraft trade with the Browns, here's what Spielman got for nothing by moving down one spot to fourth overall: Arkansas receiver Jarius Wright (118th overall), Notre Dame cornerback Robert Blanton (139th overall) and a seventh-round pick that was traded to Tennessee for a sixth-round pick next year.

Another 15 in the fold

After the draft ended, the Vikings quickly turned to free agency and agreed to terms with 15 undrafted rookies: Chase Baker, Boise State defensive tackle; Derrick Coleman, UCLA running back; Kevin Cyrille, Florida Atlantic defensive end; Bobby Felder, Nicholls State cornerback; Kamar Jorden, Bowling Green receiver; Eric Latimore, Penn State defensive end; Tyler Nielsen, Iowa linebacker; Ernest Owusu, California defensive end; Corey Paredes, Hawaii linebacker; Austin Pasztor, Virginia guard; Tydreke Powell, North Carolina defensive tackle; Terrell Resonno, Missouri defensive tackle; Quentin Saulsberry, Mississippi State center; Darrion Weems, Oregon tackle; and C.C. Whitlock, South Carolina cornerback.

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