Welcome to part four of our ten part series entitled “Welcome to the Big Show” where we attempt to bring you a comprehensive, in-depth look at each of the Vikings ten Draft selections of 2012. In case you missed them, here are links to the first three: Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, and Josh Robinson.
Now, we move on to USC’s Rhett Ellison who was a surprise pick by the Vikings near the end of the fourth round.
The Ellison family has athletic bloodlines. Riki Ellison, Rhett’s father, played linebacker for USC in the late seventies where he lettered over four seasons. The elder Ellison then went on to play for the San Francisco 49ers from 1983 to 1989, where he appeared in two Super Bowls. He then played three seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders. The Ellison family is very well known in New Zealand, where Riki is from, for producing elite rugby players since the 1880’s.
Even Rhett’s sister, Wesley, played water polo for Michigan’s team for four years.
As a child, Rhett Ellison spent his summers at the home of his grandparents on Lake Minnetonka. His mother, Sheila, moved from Wisconsin to Edina and her three brothers played hockey. One brother, Dave Maley, was a successful hockey player at every level and his career climaxed when he won a Stanley Cup as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Sheila also went to USC where she was a Song Girl and met Riki. Her and Riki have since divorced, but she is a successful author of books regarding parenting.
Ellison has a degree in International Relations from USC and has begun working on his master’s in communication management. His thesis? A study into the correlation between a strong performance at the NFL Scouting Combine and a successful career in the NFL.
He is also a talented musician and can play the drums, the guitar, and the piano.
Ellison wasn’t allowed to start playing football until he went to a camp hosted by Pete Carroll. He became a USC fan as a result and often went to the games. Despite having already committed to Virginia Tech, Ellison just couldn’t turn down USC when they offered him a scholarship just two days prior to signing day.
Height: 6’ 5”
Weight: 251 pounds
Arm Length: 32.75”
Forty Yard Dash: 4.88 seconds
Vertical Jump: 31.5”
Broad Jump: 109”
- Can play either tight end or fullback
- Consistent Hands
- Quick burst off the line
- Avoids being jammed at the line
- Willing to take big hits
- Good route runner
- Good on special teams coverage team
- Blocks efficiently
- Good character
- A fairly slow runner
- Will not shake defenders with moves
- Struggles to gain separation
- Not a big play threat
- Not a natural ball carrier
- Could stand to increase his strength
Originally hoping to play linebacker, Ellison had to compete against Clay Matthews in practice which was understandably an uphill battle. Still, he was known for his dedication, affinity for the film room, and willingness to do whatever was asked of him by the coaches.
Once he was put into the tight end and fullback position, however, Ellison thrived by taking on linebackers as a blocker. Not surprisingly, being a blocking tight end and all, Ellison did not post massive stats at USC.
In four years he had 53 catches, 471 yards, and six touchdowns. He also had one career rushing attempt, but it didn’t go well, as he lost five yards.
He missed four games with a broken foot in 2008 and sat out of 2010’s spring practice because of mono.
He was a team captain at USC in his senior season.
Ellison did not think he was going to be selected in the Draft. When Rick Spielman called him, he was standing on the banks of the Potomac River and began to cry.
Just fifteen minutes earlier, he had been watching the Draft with his family when he decided to talk a walk to the river. He burst through the door just before the selection was announced on the television and, still crying, told his family he was going to be a Viking.
The family celebrated with champagne and reminisced about their ties to Minnesota.
Ellison was selected at 128th overall by the Vikings making him only the third New Zealander to play in the NFL.
On matching his father’s two Super Bowl rings: “That’s a long way off. I just want to do what I can to play as well as possible for the Vikings.”
Riki Ellison on his son wearing Jim Kleinsasser’s jersey number: “I think it’s destiny and fate.”
Rhett’s initial reaction to being drafted: “I was surprised to [be drafted] at all. I was kind of going into it not thinking I was going anywhere. To get picked up by the Vikings in the fourth round – to get picked up by the Vikings, period – was a big surprise.”
Rick Spielman on where Ellison was selected: “He’s very modest. I know that he was going to go right around there. For a fact.”
Riki Ellison on why the Vikings targeted Rhett: “It’s the intangibles. Rhett is a leader and is a real team man. He was named captain in his senior year at college and USC have named an ongoing award after him, the Rhett Ellison leadership award.”
Leslie Frazier on how he will utilize Ellison: “We’re hoping he can become a guy who can give us a little of what Jimmy (Kleinsasser) gave us in the past. We need a guy who can come in the backfield and be a lead blocker or be on the line of scrimmage and be a blocker for us. We’ll have good competition for that third TE position.”
WHERE HE FITS
If you are looking to see Ellison have an immediate impact in his rookie year, then don’t go to the restroom during kickoffs. His best chance to succeed early on will come on special teams where he could have a real impact.
In the long run, however, the Vikings hope Ellison will fill the shoes of Jim Kleinsasser as a dominate blocking tight end that can pull some reps at fullback. Since he was selected relatively early in the Draft, it seems likely that he will be the third tight end on the active roster and possibly even push some of the various fullbacks the Vikings acquired in free agency out of a job.
Adam’s Grade: C
Brett’s Grade: C