Rhett Ellison probably does more things that go unnoticed than any other Vikings player.
“Yeah,” he says with a smile, “I tell people, ‘Whatever you do, don’t pick me in Fantasy Football.’ ”
In Fantasy Football, Ellison probably is universally unemployed with 31 catches for 334 yards and two touchdowns in 43 games since the Vikings selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.
In reality football?
“Rhett does all the dirty work,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said, “and nobody gives him any credit for it.”
At Winter Park, no playbook is thicker than Ellison’s. He’s a key special teams player and a hybrid offensive tool who has to know how to line up at four different positions: the X (split end), the Z (flanker), the Y (tight end) and F (fullback).
“A lot of times a play is called and it’s, ‘OK, wait. Who am I on this play?’ ” Ellison said. “There are so many things going on. It’s, ‘Am I the Z? Am I the X? Wait, am I the Y?’ You just have to figure out who you are and then the play makes sense.”
Ellison is the son of former NFL player Riki Ellison, a linebacker who won three Super Bowls during a seven-year stint (1983-89) with the San Francisco 49ers. Rhett played scholastically in Mountain View, a Bay Area city.
Yes, Riki, 55, will be at Monday night’s game when the 49ers open the season at new Levi’s Stadium. Yes, he’ll be wearing a red 49ers coat for some pregame festivities. No, he won’t be rooting for the visiting team for which his son plays.
“I think my allegiance still remains to the team that gave me three Super Bowl rings and a couple million dollars,” Riki told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I am wearing that coat. I won Super Bowls with that team. I didn’t win Super Bowls with Minnesota.”
Rhett smiles. He’s not surprised.
“My first preseason game as a rookie in 2012 was at old Candlestick in San Francisco,” Rhett said. “My dad was on our sideline during warm-ups wearing all his 49ers gear. And that was my very first NFL game.”
Riki Ellison was the first native New Zealander to play in the NFL. Rhett went to Super Bowl XXIV on Jan. 28, 1990, but he doesn’t remember the 49ers beating the Broncos 55-10 that day. He was 1. Riki was on injured reserve and played the next three years with the Raiders.
“My dad’s nickname was ‘Fruit Loops,’ so I’m guessing he was a little crazy,” Rhett said. “He was kind of a glass-eater, a tough guy, extremely smart and a very intense player.”
Meanwhile, Rhett heads into his fourth NFL season as an unheralded but established prototypical NFL grunt.
“We love having guys like him,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
If there’s a badge of honor for the prototypical NFL grunt, it’s represented in the perpetually healing scab on the bridge of Ellison’s nose. It screams, “Designated blocker!”
“I think he’s one of the great all-around football players on our team,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “He’s obviously not the best pass-catching tight end in the league. He’s not a Jim Kleinsasser-type of blocker who’s just a beast. But he’s a guy who can do it all. Just one of those selfless guys you need because he’s just a gritty, hard-nosed kid.”
Ellison filled similar roles at Southern Cal. In fact, his notorious work ethic led USC to rename its “Trojan Way Leadership Award” the “Rhett Ellison ‘Machine’ Trojan Way Leadership Award” in 2011.
With the Vikings, Ellison has to practice blocking techniques from the backfield, on the line of scrimmage, coming in motion from the backside and motioning to the strong side at the point of attack.
“When you see me staying after practice, it’s not a ‘rookie mentality,’ ” Ellison said. “There just isn’t enough time to do it all in practice. I don’t get individual work with the fullbacks in practice, so that’s what I spend the most time on after practice.”
Not exactly fantasy material, eh?
“The defense knows more about all the stuff I’m doing than the average fan does,” Ellison said. “The average fan isn’t going to know about the blocking or the gritty-type work that goes into a job like this.”