One Viking Proved the Naysayers Wrong Once and for All

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

He just wasn’t quite big enough.

That was the only possible explanation during the 2023 NFL Draft when 32 general managers did not select University of Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace.

One Viking Proved the Naysayers Wrong Once and for All

The Minnesota Vikings plucked Pace off the undrafted free-agent wire immediately after the event, and for now, the rest is history.

Proved the Naysayers
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings prevailed in a 3-0 win Sunday at the Las Vegas Raiders, and Pace’s game-ending interception was the exclamation point.

All told at Las Vegas, Pace banked 13 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a QB hit, and the aforementioned pick. The game served as his 2023 signature to date, and that’s especially notable because Pace has performed wonderfully all season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Pace is the NFL’s 13th-best off-ball linebacker through 14 weeks, notably outpacing defenders like Bobby Wagner and Foyesade Oluokun. He’s also PFF’s top rookie linebacker — by a mile.

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Pace was supposed to be drafted anywhere from Round 3 to 5 last April, but NFL general managers were evidently turned off by his size — Pace is about two inches shorter than a normal off-ball linebacker. Expressing bewilderment about teams not signing on his dotted line until after the draft, Pace posted to Instagram a picture of himself with the Vikings logo and a caption for the rest of the world, “Y’all done f-cked up.”

y'all done up ivan pace

The caption obviously makes all the sense in the world now, particularly after his performance against the Raiders. He knew all along that his skillset would translate to the pros — goofy height concerns be damned.

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Moreover, Pace’s responsibilities only increased in recent weeks after veteran linebacker Jordan Hicks was diagnosed with compartment syndrome. Pace took over the Hicks role in Brian Flores’ suddenly ferocious defense, and generally speaking, Minnesota’s defense hasn’t suffered. That should be a tricky task for a normal rookie linebacker, and it should be unbelievably daunting for an undrafted commodity.

“I got that dog in me, man. That’s all I have to say. I haven’t ever been surprised. I know how good I am. I’ve been showing the world since I was young that I was good. Now I’m here in the league and still proving it,” Pace said following the Vikings victory.

Summer Sensation
Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) jogs back to the locker room after pregame ceremonies recognizing seniors on the roster before the first quarter during a college football game against the Tulane Green Wave, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. © Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Next on the agenda for Pace and the Vikings? The Cincinnati Bengals in his Pace’s hometown.

He added Sunday, “I don’t know if any of y’all saw, but I said all y’all F’d up when they didn’t draft me, and I’m showing them.”

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