Does Size Matter for Minnesota?

How Crazy Was
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Almost immediately following the 2023 National Football League Draft, the Minnesota Vikings were praised for acquiring undrafted free agent Ivan Pace Jr. He went unselected because of his size, but has since become one of the best players on Kevin O’Connell’s roster.

Does Size Matter for Minnesota?

Ivan Pace Jr. was given a three-year deal worth $2.7 million and $236,000 guaranteed when he went unselected out of Cincinnati. Seen as an undersized linebacker because he was only 5’10”, the former Bearcat turned possibility into opportunity.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.

Rather than being locked into a late-round draft pick scenario, Pace Jr. signed with Minnesota as a player with options. He targeted a defense that had holes at the linebacker position, and he secured a financial commitment that gave him a level of certainty as he entered the league. No longer were the Vikings tied to talents like Eric Kendricks or Anthony Barr, and Pace Jr. knew a highly revered mind would coach him in the form of Brian Flores.

Fast forward to where we are now, and all sides have benefitted.

Pace Jr. is certainly among the Vikings’ best rookie additions in 2023. While Jordan Addison gets the notoriety while producing as an offensive weapon at the wide receiver position, it’s hard to argue that the defender hasn’t been the better player. Working in an ugly contest against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday afternoon, Pace Jr. led Minnesota with 13 tackles and an interception.

Vikings to Showcase
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Flores was hired in February 2023 to take over for Ed Donatel after Minnesota finished 30th in points allowed.

The size for Pace Jr. has not been a problem at any point this season, and he has quickly elevated himself to the point of wearing the green dot for Flores. Minnesota’s defensive unit has turned a significant corner after being poorly coached a year ago under Ed Donatell, but the infusion of talent has also made a substantial difference. Although Pace Jr. wasn’t someone Minnesota targeted in the draft, his presence has been felt on a weekly basis and leads to the group taking a sizable step forward.

After Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took a massive whiff on Lewis Cine as a first-round pick in 2022, he has done well to find a few diamonds in the rough. Grabbing a player like Pace Jr. off the scrap heap helps soften the blow of such a sizable miss, and the linebacker can continue to be an asset for years. Although Barr is back thanks to some defensive injuries, nothing tops just how grateful the impact has been from a diminutive player everyone overlooked.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Scenarios like Pace Jr.’s play out in almost every single draft, but seeing the Vikings finally benefit from one to this level is something fans can get behind. He remains a worthy candidate for both Pro Bowl and Rookie of the Year consideration, and given where he came from, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself. If O’Connell’s squad succeeds the rest of the way, it will likely be because the Flores defense continues to do its thing, and Pace Jr. should be expected to remain at the forefront of that reality.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.