The Vikings made a deal with the Jets on the second day of the 2017 NFL draft to land Ohio State center Pat Elflein in the third round with the 70th overall pick. The Vikings gave up their third- and fourth-round picks (No. 79 and 160 overall).
Several draft analysts noted the choice was a great value selection for the Vikings. Elflein won the Rimington Award as college football's best center in his first season at the position. He played guard in his first four seasons (including a redshirt year) with the Buckeyes.
Elflein has an important local connection, but not with the Vikings. After P.J. Fleck was named Gophers football coach in January, one of his most impressive hires was Ohio State offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Ed Warinner as the offensive line and run game coordinator for the Gophers.
Warinner coached Elflein for his entire college career and talked about bringing him to the Buckeyes.
"He was recruited in the Big Ten," Warinner said. "He had committed to Northwestern, and we made a decision to offer him a scholarship, so he switched from Northwestern to Ohio State.
"His freshman year, he redshirted [because of a foot injury]. His second year, he was a backup and started playing [more] at the end of the season and started his last three seasons after that."
Warinner said Elflein brought a lot of positive attributes to the table.
"Extremely tough, physical player, great work ethic, love of the game," Warinner said. "And just a high-intensity, high-energy guy; very coachable as well."
While the Vikings are viewing Elflein as a center at this point, he had great versatility as a college offensive lineman.
"He played both guard positions and center," Warinner said. "We had a good starting center, so we played Pat some at right guard and then at left guard. It was just to kind of fill in — some of it was based on other players — plus I wanted him to develop both sides, because I think that's better in the long run. All of our inside guys, I try to train them to be centers and guards and play left or right, so they're all trained that way.
"Pat was the most versatile guy we had. If we had a guy who was better at right guard, Pat could play left. If we had a guy who was better at left guard, Pat could play right. I mean, we trained him as the backup center and then when the center graduated, he took over that position."
Did Warinner think Elflein stood out at one particular position?
"I think he's adept at left, right or center," he said. "I think his future in the National Football League is bright at center. I see him being a longtime center in the NFL, but I also know he could slide out and play guard."
Warinner said Elflein was a dominant run blocker for the Buckeyes.
"We were a really good running team at Ohio State, and he was kind of the anchor of that," Warinner said, "so I think he might be a little bit ahead in terms of his run blocking. He's very adequate and solid as a pass protector, but he's a dominant run blocker."
Does he think the Vikings should play him at center?
"I think that's their decision," he said. "They drafted him, and they know what they need. I always saw him as a guy who would have a bright future because he's smart and he's the kind of guy you want touching the ball every play, so center ties into that. But I think that's a decision they have to make based on what they need, because I think he has versatility."
Wherever Elflein plays, Warinner said he knows the Vikings got a great young leader.
"He does the right thing," Warinner said. "He motivates other guys to work hard, he's a solid person on and off the field. [You'd be proud] if you had a son that grew up like him, or you'd want him to marry your daughter. Those are the kind of things you'd say about him. And he's a good motivator because people like him and because of his energy and his work ethic. People are attracted to follow his lead."
First days on the field
As he gets his feet wet during his first NFL practices, Elflein said he has been having fun adjusting to Vikings camp.
"Everyone has been great," he said. "The tempo, the whole practice culture, you can see it coming out from the coaches and how fast-paced it was, and practice with intent is what they were stressing."
Does he have a preference on what position he plays?
"I played guard for four years in college and then my last year was my first year playing center, my fifth year," he said. "I'm just continuing that and playing center again, so far at least. I feel comfortable at either [position]. As I said earlier, it just depends on where the team needs me."
When asked how he ended up as the Buckeyes' center, Elflein said it was based on necessity.
"Our center the year before had just graduated and we needed a new center at Ohio State," he said. "I had played there before, I was like a backup center, so the transition as pretty easy."
No matter where he ends up, he said he's excited for the start of his pro career.
"I'm really pumped. I couldn't be more happy to be here," he said.
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