New Vikings Defender Passed the Test

Sep 11, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Detail view of the 9/11 decal on the back of the Minnesota Vikings helmet prior to the game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings lost Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 20-17, an underwhelming start to a season with relatively high hopes.

New Vikings Defender Passed the Test

The Vikings self-inflicted at least three wounds via turnover, two fumbles and an interception off Kirk Cousins paws.

But one new Viking on defense passed an early test, proving he belongs on a regular season field — undrafted free-agent linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.

defender passed
Ivan Pace Jr. of Colerain High School wins boys athlete of the year award during their Sports Awards, sponsored by TriHealth, on Thursday, April 18, 2019, at Cincinnati Music Hall in Cincinnati. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer.

According to Pro Football Focus, these were Minnesota’s Top 10 performers in Week 1:

  1. Brian O’Neill (86.4)
  2. Camryn Bynum (82.5)
  3. Justin Jefferson (79.1)
  4. Ivan Pace Jr. (75.0)
  5. T.J. Hockenson (74.0)
  6. Josh Metellus (72.2)
  7. Harrison Phillips (71.6)
  8. Jordan Hicks (70.6)
  9. Josh Oliver (68.4)
  10. Khyiris Tonga (67.5)
Mar 1, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr. (LB23) speaks to the press at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

Pace Jr. led the Vikings in unassisted tackles with 6 and recorded the second-most total tackles (8) behind safety Camryn Bynum, who led the way on defense for the Vikings via PFF grade. The Cincinnati alumnus also tossed in a QB hit for good measure.

For some reason, Pace Jr. wasn’t coveted during the 2023 NFL Draft, as his name was called by zero NFL general managers, falling into the undrafted free-agent pool. The Vikings didn’t wait long and pounced on Pace Jr., who now made an immediate impact in Week 1.

Nov 5, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) reacts after sacking Navy Midshipmen quarterback Xavier Arline (not pictured) in the second half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports.

Meanwhile, Pace Jr.’s teammate, Brian Asamoah, curiously experienced little-to-no action on defense Sunday. Listed as a starting linebacker, Asamoah probably should’ve possessed Pace Jr.’s snap count (46), but defensive coordinator Brian Flores displayed other plans. Asamoah played two defensive snaps, a bizarre and low total for a starter.

Head coach Kevin O’Connell said about the linebacking rotation, “Yeah, I know the plan was there was going to be a little bit of a rotation there, so I’ll have to look at it. Keeping up with the snap counts play-to-play, maybe one day I’ll be able to do that. But I’ll take a look at it, and I think we feel really good about kind of a three-man grouping right there.”

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Todd Bowles hug after the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings featured multiple safety looks against Tampa Bay, an outcome widely expected sans Asamoah’s low snap count.

“But Ivan Pace had earned the right to be on the field. Brian had to deal with an injury through camp, and those reps were really valuable. We still feel great about Jordan (Hicks), I.P. and Brian and Troy (Dye) also with his ability to step in there, made some good plays on teams. So that inside backer group is a strength for us,” O’Connell added.

The knock on Pace Jr. that caused the undrafted status was allegedly size — he’s about two inches shorter than most off-ball linebackers. A 75.0 PFF grade in an undrafted free agent’s NFL debut, though, proves that most executives “got it wrong” about Pace during the draft.

Pace Jr. and the Vikings travel to Philadelphia for a date with the Eagles on Thursday night.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by