A few weeks ago, the Jets claimed offensive lineman Pat Elflein off waivers from the Minnesota Vikings and he started at left guard for them in Sunday’s game. Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.
The 26-year old is listed at 6’3” and 303 pounds and was a third round pick out of Ohio State in 2017. Elflein has started 44 games in his NFL career, at all three interior lineman positions.
Elflein got plenty of interest out of high school as he was ranked as the 22nd best guard prospect in the nation by ESPN. He had also had success as a wrestler and in the shot put at high school.
After being recruited to Ohio State, Elflein redshirted his freshman year due to injury and was mostly a backup to Corey Linsley in his redshirt freshman season in 2013. However, he saw action in a few games and performed well enough to earn his first career start in the Big 10 title game.
In 2014, Elflein was a full-time starter at guard and earned all-Big 10 honors for the first of three consecutive seasons. He again started every game at guard in 2015 and then returned for his redshirt senior season, during which he moved to center and won the Rimington Trophy.
He was regarded as a safe pick in the 2017 draft but lasted until the third round before the Vikings moved up to take him with the 70th overall pick.
As a rookie, Elflein started at center and initially showed a lot of promise, making it onto the PWFA all-rookie team. However, in 2018, he struggled badly after missing the first few games due to injury.
In 2019, the Vikings opted to draft Garrett Bradbury and moved Elflein to guard. He did well as a run blocker but gave up eight sacks and had a career-high eight penalties.
Elflein started the first game of 2020 but then got placed on injured reserve and when he was activated in November, he got released shortly afterwards.
After just three practices with the Jets he was immediately called into action as the starting left guard with Alex Lewis mysteriously benched.
Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Elflein brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Elflein has decent size, good length and a solid frame but is only regarded as an average athlete. In fact, at the scouting combine his workout numbers were below average across the board, including a 5.32 in the 40-yard dash, 23.5” vertical and 7.94 in the three-cone drill.
Having said that, he has displayed surprisingly good athleticism at times in some of his film.
Elflein has seen extensive action at all three interior line positions, both at the college level and in the NFL.
In college, when he first became a starter, he was at left guard for the first three games but then moved to right guard for the rest of the season and stayed there for the following season, then finishing his career with a year at center.
His first two seasons at the NFL level saw him starting at center but he moved to left guard in 2019. He started at right guard in the opener this year before playing left guard against Miami last Sunday.
Elflein has had some struggles in pass protection during his first few years in the league, giving up plenty of pressure. As noted earlier he gave up eight sacks in 2019 (including the postseason), placing him near the top of the league at the guard position.
One of his main issues has been an inability to anchor against the bull rush, as he’s been walked back into the quarterback’s lap on a regular basis.
He can also struggle to keep up with quick initial moves and to recover when losing a leverage advantage early on in the play.
There are some times when he looks good though. He works well as a spare man, reacting to stunts and blitzes and helping out his linemates. There were some signs that he was improving as a pass protector last year, although he remained inconsistent despite some good one-off performances.
Elflein graded out well as a run blocker in 2017 and 2019 and, although he struggled in 2018, there are plenty of encouraging plays on his game film.
This play, against Nathan Shepherd of the Jets, showcases his ability to control his man at the point of attack.
He shows some good power on this play, driving his man out of the middle to create a big running lane.
What’s most surprising about his film is the athletic ability he showcases despite not having good workout numbers. He’ll be tasked with making reach blocks on a regular basis and can pull and get downfield.
His main weakness is in space where he will have a tendency to fall off blocks or even whiff completely.
Elflein’s ability to block at the point of attack is an asset in short yardage situations.
However, he does have a tendency to fire off the line and find himself at the second level with no angle to make a block.
He was arguably at fault when the Jets went for it on fourth down in the red zone against Miami. Elandon Roberts shot the gap before Elflein could peel off his combo block to pick him up.
Elflein has also displayed his athleticism on screen passes. Once he gets going he can hustle downfield and make some effective blocks.
On this play, he takes a perfect angle so that he is able to seal the linebacker to the inside to spring Dalvin Cook for a touchdown.
As noted, Elflein has issues with bull rushers at times and you can see how that happens on this play. Chris Jones is able to get his hands inside which enables him to get under his pads and gain the leverage to drive him back.
Hand placement and the accuracy of his strikes is clearly somewhere Elflein could stand to improve. On this play, the rush is too quick for him and he is unable to get his hands on his man to slow him down, leading to him losing his balance.
At times, he will fall off blocks or lunge after his man, both in space and when blocking on the move. As you can see here he doesn’t get his feet moving to maintain a strong base and this enables his man to throw off his block.
At center, he didn’t have any issues with bad snaps in his rookie year, but there were a couple in his second season.
Elflein has 17 penalties in his career, including a career-worst eight last season. 10 of these were for holding, mostly coming in situations where he lost leverage and couldn’t recover.
He also had three false starts and three penalties for being illegally downfield on a pass.
Elflein’s only contributions on special teams have come as a blocker on the placekicking unit and that’s unlikely to change with the Jets.
One of the main reasons Elflein didn’t grade as well in 2018 was that the Vikings offensive line was a bit of a mess overall and it’s difficult to ascertain whether he was really to blame for that. Tellingly, Bradbury also graded out poorly in pass protection when he took over at center.
Generally, he tends to do a pretty good job of reacting to stunts and blitzes and works well with his linemates. However, he can be prone to the occasional mental error.
On the whole, his intelligence is considered one of his main attributes. In college he won some scholar-athlete awards at OSU and earned academic all-Big 10 conference honors.
Elflein was named as a captain for the Buckeyes because of his blue collar attitude and won some fans over the years because of a tendency to go “looking for work” when in pass protection and by finishing some blocks aggressively.
Other than a foot injury during his first year at OSU, Elflein stayed healthy throughout his college career. However, he’s had some issues in the pros.
In his rookie year in 2017, he missed two games with a shoulder injury and then missed the first two games and didn’t start the third in 2018 after having offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries.
This season, he spent some time on injured reserve with a thumb injury and then was released once healthy enough to return.
Elflein is viewed as a good fit for a zone blocking scheme, especially if playing center. Scouting reports indicate he might be able to handle a man/gap scheme if he played guard.
Interestingly, Elflein doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the offensive linemen the Jets brought in this year because his athletic numbers aren’t as good. However, his film indicates that he should be able to cope with the kind of assignments the Jets typically rely on their offensive linemen to be athletic enough to handle.
The Jets may view Elflein as a candidate to play center but that’s not certain right now. Connor McGovern has been playing better after a rocky start.
Elflein was briefly teammates with current Jets Josh Andrews and Josh Doctson while in Minnesota.
Elflein is out of contract at the end of the season so the Jets might be viewing these final six games, including Sunday’s loss to Miami, as a chance to audition Elflein for a future role with the inside track to bringing him back.
It’s clear he has some untapped potential and is still young enough to become a more consistently reliable player. If he can be that, he could be a useful addition to an offensive line group that certainly seems to have more keepers than last year’s group did.
However, there have been some holes in his game, so Elflein will have to continue to develop if he’s to work out to be a good signing.