Will 2020 Be Pat Elflein's Final Season as a Minnesota Viking?

Will Ragatz

As we count down the days until the Vikings' opener against the Packers on September 13th, InsideTheVikings will be previewing every single player on the roster. The amount of days remaining corresponds with the jersey number of the player being examined on that day. Today is July 10th, and there are 65 days until kickoff for the 2020 regular season. Our next player preview looks at an undrafted lineman from a powerhouse program.

Countdown to Vikings-Packers on September 13th: 65 Days

Player Preview: Pat Elflein (No. 65, Guard)

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  • College: Ohio State
  • Drafted: 2017 third round (70th overall)
  • NFL experience: Three seasons (2020 will be his fourth)
  • Age: 26 (Birthday was in July)
  • Size: 6'3", 303
  • 2019 PFF Grade: 62.3

The Vikings thought they landed a foundational piece for the interior of their offensive line when they traded up to select Ohio State center Pat Elflein in the third round of the 2017 draft. Three years later, as he enters the final year of his rookie deal, it's becoming all but certain that they whiffed on that evaluation. Elflein could potentially remain a starter in 2020 due to a lack of better options, but his future in Minnesota beyond this season is very much up in the air.

Elflein was a three-star recruit out of Pickerington, OH, a town of 20,000 that has managed to produce six active NFL players. With most of his offers coming from MAC schools and mid-tier Big Ten programs like Indiana and Northwestern, it was an easy decision for Elflein to choose Ohio State when he got an offer from the Buckeyes. Out of the 25 members of OSU's fifth-ranked 2012 recruiting class, Elflein ranked dead last in 247 Sports' composite rating.

Despite that ranking, he would go on to have an incredibly productive career in Columbus. After redshirting during his first year on campus, Elflein played in 14 games as a reserve lineman in 2013. He started all 15 games at guard the following year as Ohio State won the national championship, and was named first team All-Big Ten for the first of three straight years. He was again a full-time starter at right guard in 2015, helping Ezekiel Elliott rush for over 1,800 yards for a second consecutive season.

As a fifth-year senior in 2016, Elflein moved from guard to center and had his best season yet. He won the Rimington Trophy as the best center in the nation, was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, and was a consensus All-American. 

Elflein posted poor numbers at the 2017 combine, finishing in the 40th percentile or worse among OL in every category except the short shuttle. But despite concerns about his athleticism, the Vikings took a chance on his experience, power, and all-around talent. They traded up from 79 to 70 to land Elflein, and the pick was lauded as a potential steal.

During his first NFL preseason, Elflein showed off many of the skills that made him so successful at Ohio State. His strength and nastiness was an asset in both the running game and in pass protection from the center position.

Elflein won the Vikings' center job as a rookie and made 14 starts – missing two games with a shoulder injury – for a team that went to the NFC title game. He was solid as a rookie, receiving a 66.6 grade from PFF that ranked 21st out of 35 qualifying centers. Elflein was named to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team for his work.

Prior to the 2018 season, Elflein had surgery on both his shoulder and ankle. His first full NFL offseason was mostly spent rehabbing those surgeries, and he missed the first couple games of the season. Elflein started the final 13 games of the year at center, but his performance declined drastically from where it was during his rookie year. His PFF grade fell to an awful 41.9, which ranked dead last among NFL centers. An injury-riddled offseason was likely a major factor towards his disappointing 2018 season.

Following Elflein's awful season, the Vikings chose to draft NC State center Garrett Bradbury (the 2018 Rimington winner) in the first round of the 2019 draft. They moved Elflein over to left guard to accommodate Bradbury, hoping that a position change – and a healthy offseason – would spark a bounce-back season for the former Buckeye. 

Elflein did bounce back in 2019, but not as much as the Vikings would've liked. His PFF grade of 62.3 was quite average, ranking 42nd out of 83 qualified guards. While Elflein was good as a run-blocker, he continued to be consistently beaten in pass protection. His PFF grades reflected that contrast; Elflein ranked 18th among guards in run blocking and 77th in pass blocking. For the season, he surrendered a team-high 32 pressures and six sacks while being penalized eight times (six holding calls).

Elflein was unable to anchor against powerful defensive tackles and was also beaten regularly by speed moves. This play against Chris Jones of the Chiefs is the lasting image of his 2019 season:

Despite some speculation that the Vikings would release Elflein this offseason to create roughly $2 million in cap space, they surprisingly chose to move on from right guard Josh Kline instead. With 2019 fourth-rounder Dru Samia the favorite to take over at Kline's spot, Elflein might still be in line to hold onto his left guard position. However, he won't be handed that job. Veteran Dakota Dozier is his primary competition at the moment, but the Vikings' best move might be to get creative and move a tackle inside to left guard. That could be someone like Oli Udoh or Aviante Collins, and it could also be whichever of Riley Reiff and Ezra Cleveland isn't starting at left tackle.

If Elflein does remain the starter at left guard, it's unlikely that he'll be anything more than average. His $2.4 million cap hit ranks 45th among NFL guards, which is on line with his No. 42 PFF grade ranking. He has value in the running game, but the last two seasons have offered little hope that Elflein can right the ship and become an above-average pass blocker on the interior.

An unrestricted free agent in 2021, this might be Elflein's last chance to salvage his career as a starter for the Vikings. If he loses his starting job or continues to be a liability, it would make sense for the Vikings to move on and look to address that position with an in-house option or a move next offseason.

Previous OL player previews:

You can find every single player preview to date – plus other offseason content – in this handy spreadsheet.

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