A Bold Prediction for One Vikings Rookie

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The 2023 Vikings draft class is as intriguing as ever, and I’m hopeful of impactful seasons from Minnesota’s rookies. I have high hopes for several players but have a bold prediction for one Vikings rookie. 

A Bold Prediction For One Vikings Rookie

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first draft class largely failed to make much impact in their rookie seasons. There were some flashes from Brian Asamoah, Akayleb Evans, and Jalen Nailor, but that was it. Not helped by a season-ending injury to first-round pick Lewis Cine before he had played a snap on defense, Adofo-Mensah’s drafting, rightly or wrongly, came under scrutiny.

With a lot of turnover across the Vikings roster this offseason, there will be an emphasis on young players stepping up. Asamoah, Cine, and Evans could be starters this year, while this year’s first-round rookie Jordan Addison will be expected to carve out a significant role in the offense immediately. For all the high-round draft picks that lots will be expected of, no one is making more noise than undrafted rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr.

My bold prediction is Pace goes from undrafted to All-Rookie team in a somewhat fairy-tale scenario. That is quite the leap of faith, but I believe it is possible due to the combination of ability and opportunity. The Vikings aren’t blessed with an abundance of renowned talent at linebacker. Jordan Hicks is the veteran starter in Minnesota and will likely start alongside Brian Asamoah. 

The 31-year-old made 100 tackles in his debut season in purple but often struggled with the demands in coverage former DC Ed Donatell put on his inside linebackers. Brian Flores should use his experience to help Asamoah and Pace Jnr, who should both get the opportunity to prove themselves the future at the position with Hicks in the final year of his contract. The Vikings also have Troy Dye, Troy Reeder, Taner Vallejo, Wilson Huber, and Abraham Beauplan on the roster. They will compete for one or two spots as depth and special teams duties, but it shouldn’t hinder Pace’s playing time.

Already Getting Gold Stars

A Bold Prediction for
Ivan Pace Jr. of Colerain shows the football after scoring a touchdown against St. X in the OHSAA DI Region 4 Playoffs at Colerain High School, Friday Nov. 2, 2018. © Michael Noyes for The Enquirer.

The rookie linebacker is undoubtedly the story of the preseason in Minnesota. He’s creating more buzz than first-round wide receiver Jordan Addison — who has looked exciting, barring some injury concerns. Pace has been turning heads and continues to go from strength to strength, and after just one preseason, he’s all but guaranteed his spot on the roster — an incredible achievement for an undrafted player.

Not only had Flores been singing his praises, but the Vikings head coach has jumped on the bandwagon, too, remarking that Pace has gold stars all around for his performance so far and is competing to help the Vikings win games from the jump.

A Chance to Join Vikings Greats 

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The Vikings have had 33 players named to the Pro Football Writers of America NFL All-Rookie team since its inception in 1974. That list includes some Vikings greats like Randy Moss, Sammy White, Chris Doleman, and Randall McDaniel. Top players from more recent times like Adrian Peterson, Brian Robison, Percy Harvin, Eric Kendricks, and Stefon Diggs. There are also four players currently on the roster who received this accolade playing for the Vikings in their rookie season. Those are Justin Jefferson, Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, and Kene Nwangwu.

Should my prediction come true, Pace would be rubbing shoulders with some great names. Of course, a good rookie season isn’t always built to produce a great career. Cameron Dantzler and Matt Kalil are examples of All-Rookie players whose careers didn’t go on to great things — Dantzler still has time, but it’s not looking good as of now.

The Competition 

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If Pace gets his chance and plays well, who are the other rookie linebackers he has to beat out? Two linebackers were selected in the first round of this year’s draft, Jack Campbell (Detroit Lions) and Nolan Smith (Philadelphia Eagles). Campbell is already impressing in Detroit and looks likely to be a regular starter for the Lions. Smith needs to fight for playing time on an extremely talented Eagles defense. 

Drew Sanders, Daiyan Henley, Trenton Simpson, DeMarvion Overshown, and Dorian Williams are Day 2 picks that will also be expected to perform well. Many linebackers were selected on Day 3 who could also stake a claim. Talent is one thing, but opportunity is vital. A player can’t make an impression sitting on the sidelines. It’s sensible to expect that Pace is on course to get opportunities if he can seize them like he has everything so far. He can make a big impact.