Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
When Rhett Ellison was initially drafted, he didn't think the phone call he received was about an NFL job. He was sitting on a boat on a river in California.
So far, the fourth-round pick has panned out.
Some fans questioned Ellison's choice to pick the No. 40 for his jersey, given that fan favorite and then-recently departed Jim Kleinsasser famously wore that number for his 13 years with the Vikings. As a fullback/tight end hybrid, Ellison had big shoes to fill.
He hasn't quite reached that level yet, but his surprisingly good play for the Vikings has given fans hope that he could replace the type of play on the field that Kleinsasser brought.
In the offseason, Vikings beat reporter Tom Pelissero floated the idea that the Vikings could choose not to re-sign Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton in favor of letting Ellison take the reigns as the lead blocker for the best running back in the country.
It's not a crazy idea: In many ways, Ellison was a better player as a rookie than Felton was as a five-year veteran. As a versatile player, Ellison could contribute more as a pass-blocker, an in-line blocker and as a pass-catcher, with Felton possessing more savvy as a lead blocker.
But Ellison isn't too far behind when it comes to playing the classic fullback position.
He doesn't plunge into the line and hold his block with the same technical skill as Felton. He still likely has more to learn about reading blocks and shooting the correct gaps (important for when the Vikings choose to play their favored zone-running scheme), but he could develop into a worthy successor to the No. 40.
He's a very solid blocker when lined up with the rest of the offensive line and runs better routes than many might have expected. In his short time as a pass-blocker (36 snaps), he has yet to give up pressure, which is far better than Felton—who has given up one hit and two hurries in 51 pass-blocking snaps.
That's not to say that Ellison will completely supplant Jerome Felton. The Vikings like to have both on the field. But over time, don't be surprised to see Ellison take Felton's snaps when they only need one of them in the set.