It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Rams need help along the offensive line in the wake of the Jeff Fisher Era.
Rodger Saffold (left guard) and Rob Havenstein (right tackle) are currently the best two players up front for the Rams, but neither of them are better than league average at their position. To say they are even that serviceable may be a stretch. The Rams need help at all five spots on the offensive line. Period.
Ohio State OL Pat Elflein has the ability to improve a handful of different spots for the Rams.
Elflein was not a typical five-star recruit that Ohio State continues to pull in.
According to 247Sports, Elflein was a three-star recruit who was listed as the 55th guard recruit in the country and 983rd overall player in the class. With as many blue chip players as Ohio State brings in, it was no sure thing that Elflein’s recruit status would earn him a starting job, but he quickly overcame the odds and earned a role.
A foot injury forced Elflein to redshirt the 2012 season, but that was a minor speed bump for him. By the end of the 2013 season, Elflein had earned a starting job as a guard. Elflein then opened the 2014 season as Ohio State’s starting left guard, but was moved to right guard after three games, where Elflein would spend the rest of the 2014 and 2015 season playing. After Ohio State lost a number of offensive linemen after the 2015 season, Elflein was asked to slide inside from guard to center. Elflein started the entire 2016 season as Ohio State’s center and earned the 2016 Rimington Award that is granted to the nation’s top center.
Quickness and Explosion to Boast
Athleticism is not a concern with Elflein. He is a fluid athlete who can cover large tracts of field when moving to the second level of the perimeter, as well as play with short area quickness when executing combination blocks and the like. Elflein is explosive, too. He possesses great strength in his lower body and does a good job of unlocking his hips to explode into opposing defensive linemen. When being asked to recover from being beaten initially, Elflein often displays enough balance to remain upright and regain the advantage over his opponent. In every sense of the term, Elflein is an athlete.
This clip from 2016 (Elflein at center) displays Elflein’s ability to move swiftly in space. Being the pull player requires impressive athleticism, especially from the center position. On this play, Elflein is able to “block” two defenders simply because he is more athletic than the first defender.
Elflein gains a lot of ground with his first three steps off the ball. By the time his third foot is hitting the ground, Elflein is at the defensive end’s outside shoulder. This puts Elflein in position to flip his hips and attack the end, if need be. Normally, a pulling center would not be able to get in front of the end like that, so the center would be forced to take on the end. Elflein speeds past the end, though, knowing that running back Curtis Samuel won’t get caught by the end if the end is left free. Elflein then carries up the field and seals off a player at the second level, cementing a crease for Samuel between himself and the sideline.
Here is Elflein showing mental processing, agility and explosiveness all in one play. This clip is from 2015 (Elflein at right guard).
Elflein is executing what looks like a “ricochet” technique on this play. “Ricocheting” is like a cheap combination block. Instead of full engaging the defensive lineman at the first level of the defense, Elflein simply steps into him and hits him with his shoulder, so as to help the right tackle gain a slight advantage over the defensive lineman. After bouncing off of the defensive lineman, Elflein then moves up to the second level to find his target.
The pace at which Elflein transitions from snap to ricochet to gaining depth at the second level is fascinating. He wastes no time and is efficient in all of his movements, which is aided by his natural foot quickness and short area burst. The finishing touch is how well Elflein engages the linebacker.
As Elflein goes to engage, he drops his hips in order to explode into the linebacker. The linebacker is completely overwhelmed by Elflein’s power and is forced back a couple of yards, allowing plenty of room for Ohio State’s running back to have made a play at the second level if he could have gotten there. This is a prime example of the tried and true concept that the low man always wins.
Lapses in Technique
For as smart and athletic as he is, Elflein has moments where he plays out of control and loses plays due to his technique. Elflein does not plays with poor technique on a play-to-play basis, but from time to time, Elflein will try to win with his power alone and it gets him in trouble.
This is a clip from the 2016-2017 college football playoffs (Elflein at center). Despite having the alignment advantage, Elflein ends up losing this play.
Elflein lost this play because of where his helmet was at. On this play, Eflein needed to cut off the 1-tech (lined up to Elflein’s left shoulder) from reaching the play side A-gap (between Elflein and the right guard). Elflein needed to step confidently with his right foot, reset his left foot to align with his right, engage his helmet on the right side of the defender’s helmet and plow him off the ball.
Instead, Elflein doesn’t commit completely to his right with his first step, making it tougher for him to get his helmet to the right side. Elflein ends up engaging the 1-tech head up. The 1-tech then had a 50-50 shot at beating Elflein, so he allowed Elflein to carry his own momentum away the play and pursed the ball carrier near the play side A-gap.
This is another clip from the 2016-2017 college football playoffs (Elflein at center). Elflein’s urge to attack defenders is not always carried out by his feet.
Every now and then, Elflein will pounce at a defender. He’s an aggressive player who loves to get into the opponent’s frame as soon as he can. Unfortunately, Elflein’s feet sometimes trail behind the rest of his body when he goes in for such attacks.
Elflein’s issue is not that he can’t hit moving targets. Elflein has the hand-eye coordination and athleticism to hit moving targets, both in pass protection and in the run game. The problem is that there are times where Elflein anticipates a player being in a certain spot at a certain time, so he punches toward that spot. If he hits the timing perfectly, he delivers a jolting blow to his opponent. Conversely, if a defender makes even the slightest adjustment to be in a different spot, Elflein can end up whiffing like in the play above. It did not cost Elflein to whiff so poorly on this particular play, but it has cost him before and it will in the future.
Pat Elflein’s weaknesses should not hinder him from being an above average starter in the NFL. He will need to work on maintaining the sound technique that he’s proven he has, but that is better than hoping that he can overhaul a consistently bad aspect of his technique/approach. Elflein is too athletic, intelligent and versatile for a little bit of inconsistency to ruin his entire draft profile.
Elflein is similar to Seahawks center Justin Britt. While Britt played tackle in college, he has transitioned to guard and now center in the NFL. He is a mobile player who plays with impressive understanding of angles and assignments, not to mention he is position flexible. Comparing a player to a Seahawks offensive lineman may sound like a death sentence, but Britt is by far the Seahawks best offensive lineman and he played a large role in Christine Michael’s success early in the season.
Considering this is not a particularly strong offensive line class, it may require the Rams’ second round pick to grab Elflein. The depth at positions like cornerback, tight end, safety and running back may be enough to help Elflein slide to the third round, though.
If the Rams end up getting a third round pick in return for the loss of cornerback Janoris Jenkins, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that Elflein falls to the Rams’ third round pick. If Elflein ends up falling, he would be great value.