Harrison Smith Names 1 Rookie to Watch in the Preseason

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The first preseason contest is only a few days away when the Minnesota Vikings travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. Both teams were bounced in the wild-card round in last season’s playoffs and are trying to return to the postseason this year. Seattle drafted Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Minnesota selected Jordan Addison. Both give their solid offenses another spark by adding a new receiver for their veteran quarterbacks.

Harrison Smith Names 1 Rookie to Watch in the Preseason

Harrison Smith Names 1 Rookie to Watch in the Preseason
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It remains to be seen if those top draft picks actually suit up in the preseason contest, as those games nowadays mostly feature backups and players on the roster bubble that need to showcase their talents. Last year’s first-rounder Lewis Cine participated in the preseason.

Legendary Vikings safety Harrison Smith was asked about under-the-radar players to watch in Seattle, and he tried to wiggle out of the question at first but later gave an answer after Tom Pelissero and Bucky Brooks tried their best to get one.

That Thursday game, we’ll see some stuff against Seattle. But always if you look at the draft, you look at some of the top picks, obviously [Jordan Addison], Mekhi [Blackmon] in the secondary is doing some good things. There’s a lot of guys but I don’t want to name names.

I’ll give you one under the radar: Ivan Pace, I think will show up on the Seattle tape, and next week.

Harrison Smith
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.

It’s just the latest evidence of Ivan Pace’s outstanding training camp. Coming in as an undrafted rookie because of size issues, the linebacker is showing why the Vikings were thrilled to sign him. Most folks in draft media expected Pace to be a mid-round draft pick. Despite the fact that it’s early, it appears as if they were right compared to the NFL teams that passed on him.

Pace has an intriguing but rare skillset as he can rush the passer from the inside linebacker position better than most despite the lack of size. Brentley Weissman from The Draft Network described Pace as a “heat-seeking missile who has a nose for the football” and added the promising summary, “Overall, Pace has everything you want in an inside backer. He has instincts, toughness, and good burst/speed, he just lacks the requisite size and length to excel in the NFL.”

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Size has not been an issue in camp, although his small stature as a linebacker is visible. Pace is drawing praise exclusively after his first practices in training camp from both fans and reporters in attendance but also coaches and teammates. He will not be a starting linebacker in his debut season – Jordan Hicks and Brian Asamoah will. They are also both looking good in camp. However, if Pace continues to perform at a high level, Brian Flores will certainly find a spot for him on the field.

The two are a match made in heaven. Flores wants to put pressure on quarterbacks by bringing extra rushers, and Pace is the perfect guy for that as a fantastic pass rusher. A rotational role is possible even early in his professional career.

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Smith also name-dropped Addison and Blackmon, and both are off to a good start. Addison appears to be every bit as good as advertised as a smooth route runner with natural separation and ball skills. Lifting the offense to another level as a secondary option next to Justin Jefferson is his task in the next few years. Blackmon is competing for the nickel cornerback job and is currently the leader in that race.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt