Under the Microscope: Pat Elflein

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]I evaluated Pat Elflein for the 2017 Inside the Pylon Draft Guide. I broke the former Buckeye down by watching  a series of six games. A five-game minimum is typically the benchmark I like to hit when fully evaluating a player. This allows for exposure to the player dealing with the pain and various ailments that often accumulate during a football season. I also like to hit at least five separate exposures to ensure seeing multiple levels of competition, playing on the road, at home, and the end of the year when the grind becomes grueling and increasingly challenging, especially for linemen.

Pat Elflein was a player I gave a late first-round grade on when I sat down and broke down his tape. Not only was his film clean with a display of impressive technical advancement, but his understanding of leverage, hand usage, contact balance, and power at the point of attack were all ‘excellent’ from my tape studies according to the ITP grading scale. ‘Excellent’ is defined in the grading scale as “Performs this skills with ease and consistency the MAJORITY of the time, makes difficult plays look routine and it shows against all levels of competition.”

This was a perfect description of the majority of Elflein’s tape, particularly in the running game. Consistent displays of executing NFL-style blocks on inside/outside zone, and gap principles such as down, angle-drive, and double-team blocks were recurring themes on both Elflein’s 2015 tape at right guard and 2016 tape at center.

The Minnesota Vikings selected Elflein at the top of the 3rd round (70th overall) in the 2017 NFL Draft, presumably to take over the center position. This was Elflein’s best fit based on my pre-draft projection of him in the Inside the Pylon Draft Guide:

Elflein started 40 games in his Buckeyes career (3 at left guard, 25 at RG, 12 at C) and was coached by one of the best developers for OL in the nation in Ed Warinner. Warinner was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2016 and replaced by current OL coach Greg Studrawa. There was very little change last season in terms of the performance, scheme, and development of the OL.

Under OL coach Tony Sparano, the 2016 Vikings were decimated by injuries and sorely need stability up front to take the next step offensively. Minnesota’s offensive scheme is a combination of zone and man principles, with heavy use of power, double teams, and pulling interior OL. There are plenty of opportunities for the center to back block backside 3 techniques as well as working ACE combo blocks with the two guards. Overtaking and releasing off double teams is another key component of both the Vikings and Buckeyes expectations of their interior OL. These are areas Elflein excelled at in both 2015 and 2016 with Ohio State.

Before we jump into the 2016 tape, let’s take a quick look at Elflein at RG in 2015 showcasing his ability to pull with balance and power, excellent use of leverage and balance, hand usage, and a nasty on-field demeanor:

 


Now let’s get into his 2016 season at his most probable pro position: center.

Context: Fourth game of the 2016 season, at home against Rutgers. This is the first offensive play of the game for the Buckeyes and they run outside zone to the right out of 21 personnel. Elflein is tasked with obtaining a reach block on the 2i technique to his right.

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The success of this play for Elflein starts with how quickly he is able to open up his playside hip to gain ground and get on track to work around the shaded DL, followed by excellent initial hand usage with his outside (snap) hand. Elflein is able to capture the defender’s outside shoulder / arm as he maintains a strong base and works his hips around for the reach block. The ability to latch and sustain is impressive in its own right, but the rotational strength he displays to get the shoulders of the DL turned is quite pretty.

Context: Same drive as the previous clip. It is 3rd and 1 and the offensive line blocks outside zone to the right. Elflein is uncovered and needs to work immediately to the second level to cut-off the backside LB in pursuit.

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Taking proper angles to the second level is critical for success. Elflein widens his angle at the snap to ensure he meets the LB where he will be, not where he currently is.

At the POA Elflein delivers a jolt with his inside hand, causing the LB’s pad level to rise and his pursuit to slow down. Elflein is able to secure the pursuing ‘backer and create an alley in the process. This is an excellent example of climbing to the second level and utilizing the proper angles in space:

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Elflein again widens his track as much as he can en route to cutting off pursuit from the backside LB. He shows good range here and an excellent angle for the cut-off. Once engaged, Elflein latches on to the LB’s chest and drives him off the field. Two plays on the same drive executing backside cut-offs to both the left and right sides.

Hit, lift, and drive is the sequence of events that leads to movement at the POA and is achieved with mobility, hip explosion, leverage, strength, and tenacity.

Elflein’s wrestling background and understanding of leverage are key factors to his effectiveness at the POA. He makes contact with square power, excellent pad level, and creates torque with his hands to control defenders with ease.

Context: Still the fourth game of the season at home against Rutgers. This time we are in the third quarter with the offense facing 2nd and 5 from the opponent’s 5-yard line. Ohio State is dominating the line of scrimmage and is up 37-0. Elflein executes a one-on-one drive block, showcasing the previously mentioned sequence of events in the hit, lift, and drive phase of run-blocking.

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Marrying the elbows and hips at the POA is crucial for OL to generate movement. Aligning the elbows and hips maximizes power output by ensuring the hands of the blocker are inside of the defender’s frame with the lats engaged, deriving power from the ground and through the posterior chain. Extension and the unlocking of the hips is where the vast majority of power stems from in run-blocking. Elflein demonstrates this very well in the above clip, along with the rotational strength and torque through his core and hands to move the defender multiple gaps across the line of scrimmage away from the ball. Power, technique, and strength are all on display here at a very high level.
Another display of the hit, lift, and drive portion of one-on-one run-blocking:

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Elflein’s ability to marry his hips and elbows with excellent pad level causes him to get underneath the DT, stand him up, and drive him backwards. This is a very good display of hand placement and latching onto a defender while creating pressure through the in-steps of his feet to generate power and strength through contact.

Context: 2016 Fiesta Bowl versus Clemson. The offense runs a power look with Elflein blocking down to seal the shaded NT so the LG can pull and lead to the offensive right.

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Elflein demonstrates very good mobility and pad level to get underneath the defender at the POA and latch on with outstanding grip strength. He is in full control and uses leverage and momentum against the defender for a pancake. Once latched on to the breastplate of the DL, Elflein’s excellent balance, use of leverage, and rotational strength shine.

Context: Week 8 at home against Penn State. Ohio State is facing a 3rd and 2 on their own 26-yard line. There is 10:44 on the clock in the 3rd quarter and OSU is up 12-7. The offense runs read / option and Elflein needs to reach the shaded NT to his right.

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SAQ wins this rep for Elflein, along with outstanding pad level and use of hands to gain leverage. Elflein gets a great jump off the snap and quickly works his hips around the defender while latching his outside hand underneath the playside armpit of the NT. This gives Elflein a point of contact to create leverage with while his hips finish the block. The defender is able to scrape through after the runner is within reach. If Minnesota decides to ask Elflein to work laterally and reach shaded defenders this is the type of technique and execution you want to see.
Minnesota used a lot of double teams under first-year OL coach Tony Sparano in 2016, one of the areas Elflein excels most in.

Context: Penn State at Ohio State in week 8. It is the fourth quarter with 6:30 on the clock and OSU is up 21-17. The offense faces a 3rd and 2 from the opponent’s 34-yard line:

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Elflein doubles with the RG to the backside LB. If the LB crashes down Elflein should release and pick him up to protect the backside A gap from penetration. At the snap he helps to secure the DL while keying the backside LB with his eyes. This is quick mental processing as he doesn’t hesitate to release, and it protects the backside penetration to ensure a first down in a critical moment in the game.

Context: Week 7 at Wisconsin. These are three separate clips of Elflein working a combo block with his interior linemates. The focus here is on the movement generated due to Elflein’s use of pad level and leverage to get underneath the defenders, his power through contact, hand usage, and overall ability to work combos efficiently.

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[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Expectations for 2017

The Vikings were able to get excellent value on Day 2 with the Elflein pick. The former Buckeye’s skill set is ideal for the scheme he landed in and it will come as no surprise if he earns a starting spot to start the 2017 season. Elflein is more advanced technically than the typical player the Vikings have gone for in the last few drafts so the Vikings’ failures developing offensive linemen shouldn’t be an issue. Minnesota’s OL environment in terms of development is a bit worrisome, but due to the high level of technical proficiency in areas that typically present steep learning curves (hand usage, footwork, stance) Elflein has a good chance at excelling sooner rather than later as a starter.

Follow Brandon on Twitter @VeteranScout. Read more of his work here, including his look at the wonder that is Joe Thomas, an explanation of why Doug Free is underrated, and his piece on Kansas City Chief center Mitch Morse.

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