To count down the days until Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans report to Mankato on July 23, we will reveal our ranking of the 17 most important Vikings players heading into the 2017 season. Look for the next player on our list every weekday morning at Access Vikings.

This list, created by Matt Vensel and Andrew Krammer, is not a ranking of the best players on the team, though sheer talent is obviously an essential factor. It is a ranking of the players whose upcoming season will have the biggest impact on the franchise, whether it’s in 2017 or beyond.

Coming in at No. 16 on our list is center/guard Pat Elflein.

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Desperate times finally called for a change in draft philosophy in 2017.

For the first time since 2012, when they drafted left tackle Matt Kalil in the top five, the Vikings this spring used a pick in the first three rounds of a draft on an offensive lineman. That would be Pat Elflein, whom they coveted so much that they traded up in the third round to secure him.

The Vikings, who had one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines last season and spent big bucks on offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers this winter, have not just handed Elflein a starting spot. But the former Ohio State standout figures to seize one at some point this season.

Elflein was an all-conference selection at guard his sophomore and junior years before the Buckeyes moved him to center in 2016. Not only would he earn all-conference honors again, the 6-foot-3, 303-pounder also took home the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top center.

The Vikings had Elflein line up at center during the six spring practices open to the media. In the first couple of them, Elflein split time with Nick Easton as the first-team center but Easton hogged all the snaps with the starters late in the spring, including the key three-day minicamp.

But Elflein will get a chance to make his move once the pads come on and become the latest former Buckeyes lineman to start as a rookie.

Under the watch of offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who is now on P.J. Fleck’s staff at the University of Minnesota, the Buckeyes sent Taylor Decker, Corey Linsley, Jack Mewhort and Andrew Norwell to the NFL, and they all earned starting jobs during their first seasons in the league.

The Vikings will likely need Elflein to make an early impact, too, for their rebuilt offensive line to actually become a strength this season.

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The Star Tribune’s ranking of the 17 most important Vikings in 2017:

16. Pat Elflein, C/G

17. Latavius Murray, RB

 

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