Vikings Rookie Puts League on Notice

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings added six rookies through the draft and signed 15 more undrafted free agents just after the end of the seventh round. Jordan Addison, first-round wideout, is certainly expected to have the most significant role in his rookie season. He was by far the highest-drafted player and has a unique opportunity to see the field because of Adam Thielen’s departure.

Defensive backs Mekhi Blackmon and Jay Ward will compete for starting roles in a suspect cornerback room, and defensive lineman Jaquelin Roy might carve out a role on the defensive line. However, there’s another rookie you should know.

Vikings Rookie Puts League on Notice

Vikings Rookie Puts League on Notice
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports.

Right after the draft, excitement was immense among Vikings fans when the first signed UDFAs were announced, and a couple of linebackers were among them. Andre Carter, an edge rusher from the Army, was viewed as a mid-round pick by most. Some even had him going as early as the second round, was surprisingly still available, and the Vikings didn’t hesitate to sign him.

However, another linebacker was a draft target in the Vikings’ orbit, but the team got him without spending a draft pick. Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace played a phenomenal season in his lone season for the Bearcats, but the NFL didn’t like him nearly as much as draft analysts, and the 22-year-old was not happy with that. He let people know that via a story post on Instagram.

Image Courtesy of Ivan Pace.

As previously mentioned, Pace was not happy about teams passing him over for three days. He apparently was not among the top 259 players in the class, an outrageous thing to say when his stats and accolades in college are otherworldly.

The linebacker started his college career playing for Miami (Ohio), where he spent his first three seasons. 2021 was his only full season, and he recorded outstanding 125 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble in 13 games. That was good enough to make first-team All-MAC.

After that season, Pace transferred to Cincinnati, his hometown, where he joined his brother on the team. Once again, the raw numbers were impressive, as he produced 136 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Pace made first-team All-AAC and was a unanimous All-American after his fantastic season.

But not only the counting stats were phenomenal. A look at the stats from Pro Football Focus provides even more crazy numbers.

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

His 55 QB pressures were the most of all linebackers in the nation. In fact, they were the most of any linebacker in a single season since the site started to track it in 2014. He also led all LBs in sacks and quarterback hits with 18, 5 more than the second. Pace ranked at the top in win percentage, the number of wins against a blocker with 36.4%. His pass rush grade was also top in the country, a dominant 93.3.

All of those numbers tell us what the scouting reports say. Pace is an outstanding pass rusher and blitzer from the linebacker position. Interstingly, new defensive coordinator Brian Flores likes to be aggressive. He wants to blitz and put pressure on the offense. Pace is perfect for that.

The linebacker mainly fell because of his size. He is only 5’10 1/2″ and 231 pounds. The height is in the one-percentile of players at his position. That is not as much of a problem as it used to be when LBs were 250-pound giants. They are nowadays almost built like safeties. In the 230-pound range, he clears that threshold.

But Pace is not just a pass-rusher; he also has a nose for the ball and always knows where the ball will be. In addition to that, he possesses enough athleticism to get there in time to make the play.

It’s quite possible that Pace will never be a starting linebacker because of the size, but he has enough talent as a pass rusher alone to be a scary weapon for any good defensive coordinator, and the Vikings have one of those.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports.

Bleacher Report’s description of his skills should be a fun read for all Vikings fans: “Ivan Pace Jr.’s skill set is similar to that of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons.”

Of course, an undrafted rookie will not replicate the level of play Parsons showed in his first two NFL seasons. He has Hall of Fame potential. However, there are some similarities. Both are off-ball linebackers and outstanding pass-rushers in one player.

Bleacher Report continued: “Like Parsons, Pace is a good athlete for the position. He can be a force when coming downhill and has an impressive pass-rushing arsenal for an off-ball linebacker, which can be a huge asset in the right system. However, he doesn’t have Parsons’ size. Parsons was 6’3″ and 245 pounds coming out of Penn State, while Pace is 5’10 1/2″ and 231 pounds.”

If Pace makes the roster and contributes to the team in his rookie campaign and beyond, the other teams in the league indeed f—-d up.

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