EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Rhett Ellison wasn’t even watching the NFL draft on Saturday afternoon when the Minnesota Vikings came on the clock for the second time in the fourth round.
He’d grown tired of "seeing the same highlights of the same players" for the last two days, and truth be told, wasn’t expecting to hear his name called at all. So he sneaked away for some quiet time on a river near his family’s home in California when he received a phone call that changed his life.
The Vikings drafted the Southern California tight end/fullback with the 128th overall selection, surprising Ellison so much that he broke down in tears during the call.
"I wasn’t expecting to get drafted or anything like that," Ellison said. "I was pretty shocked. I’m still trying to calm everything down right now."
Ellison wasn’t the only surprise selection for the Vikings on the final day of the draft. They spent a sixth-round pick on Georgia kicker Blair Walsh despite having veteran Ryan Longwell on the roster.
The Vikings also were able to address some needs, getting quarterback Christian Ponder some new receivers in Arkansas teammates Jarius Wright and Greg Childs in the fourth round and added Notre Dame defensive back Robert Blanton Jr. in the fifth round.
They chose North Carolina State linebacker Audie Cole at No. 210 in the seventh round, traded No. 211 to Tennessee for a sixth-round pick next season and capped the dizzying day by taking California defensive end Trevor Guyton at No. 219.
In Ellison, the Vikings may have found a replacement for long-time battering ram Jim Kleinsasser, who retired after last season. Ellison is 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, with the versatility to catch passes and block bigger defenders. He caught 21 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns for the Trojans last year and also spent a lot of time protecting quarterback Matt Barkley.
When Ellison got the call, "They asked me if I was watching TV and I was out on the river at that point trying to relax. I said, ‘No I’m not watching it.’
"They said, ‘Well you’re about to be a Minnesota Viking.’ I was crying pretty hard so I don’t know if they understood anything that I was saying. I’ll have to give them a call back later."
Ellison’s father, Riki Ellison, played on two Super Bowl-winning teams in San Francisco during a 10-year NFL career as a linebacker. Even dad was trying to prepare his son for life after football. Rhett Ellison is finishing up his master’s degree in communication management and has an undergraduate degree in international relations and was getting ready for a job in the real world.
"That’s the wisdom I got from my dad going through all this," Rhett Ellison said. "You prepare for another career. In football, you don’t know if it’s going to happen. It’s amazing it did happen. I can’t believe it."
If the 2012 Vikings draft had a theme, it may be familiarity. Ellison is close friends and teammates with Vikings first-round pick Matt Kalil, Blanton has spent the last four years playing in the same defensive backfield with first-round safety Harrison Smith, and Wright and Childs have known each other since the third grade.
"We had talked about this one day, what if we end up going to the same NFL team?" Childs said. "It would be crazy because we’ve been to middle school, elementary, high school together. Same college team. Now we’re moving on in life and we’re still going to be on the same team together."
In his first offseason running the show, GM Rick Spielman took a cautious approach to free agency, signing second- and third-tier players to short deals to bolster the team’s depth. The strategy put a lot more pressure on this week to add difference-makers to a roster in flux.
After taking Kalil and Smith on Thursday and Central Florida cornerback Josh Robinson in the third round on Friday, the Vikings entered the final day with needs at receiver, defensive back and linebacker.
Wright caught 66 passes for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Razorbacks last season. At 5-10 and with an affinity for going over the middle, Wright set the Arkansas career records for catches (168) and yards (2,934) and bears a resemblance to Percy Harvin, Minnesota’s most dynamic playmaker.
"Percy Harvin has always been one of my favorite receivers and one of the guys I looked up to in my career," Wright said.
Childs is more of a prototypical receiver, listed at 6-3 and 219 pounds. He was a rising star in the SEC during his first two years at Arkansas before tearing the patellar tendon in his left knee as a junior. He rushed back for his senior year, but was limited to 21 catches for 240 yards. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds at his pro day in March and said he feels 100 percent.
The wheeling and dealing Carolina Panthers bolstered their defense and added a game-breaking punt returner on the third day of the NFL draft.
The Panthers began Saturday by trading up to the fourth round to take defensive end Frank Alexander from Oklahoma with the 103rd overall pick. That gave the Panthers back-to-back picks and they selected punt returner Joe Adams next, helping solidify a gaping hole on special teams.