Vikings Hit the Jackpot This Offseason with One Addition

Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O'Connell at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, after a 20-17 win over the Washington Commanders in Week 9 of the 2022 regular season.

Technically, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

Ivan Pace Jr. should not have been available to the Minnesota Vikings after the 2023 NFL Draft. Like 31 NFL teams, they should’ve suffered punishment for not selecting the man during April’s three-day event in Kansas City.

Vikings Hit the Jackpot This Offseason with One Addition

The linebacker fetched a 4th-Round draft grade from The Draft Network in February, and TDN described Pace Jr. like this, “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.”

Hit the Jackpot
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports.

Some team owed itself a ‘risk’ in selecting Pace in Round 4. Or Round 5. Or 6. Or 7. The only palpable knock on the Cincinnati alumnus was height and size — he’s 5’11,” and off-ball linebackers typically stand about an inch or two taller.

But no general manager felt freaky enough to splash into The Pace Sweepstakes, so Vikings bossman Kwesi Adofo-Mensah pulled out his phone and landed Pace Jr. for the purple team after the draft — a squad that just so happened to lack linebacking talent and depth.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

Fast forward to Week 2 of the preseason, and national media has realized that Pace Jr. will be a stud. They should’ve realized it on April 28th or 29th.

And this one:

Longtime Vikings safety Harrison Smith even touted Pace Jr.’s trajectory, a noteworthy feat because Smith has seen some things in 12 years on the job. Smith predicted about the Vikings youngsters, and Pace in particular, before last Thursday’s preseason game, “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.”

Unsurprisingly, Smith was right — a perk of existing in the NFL for over a decade. You know things.

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports.

During the first week of training camp, Pace Jr. ran with ‘the twos,’ a commendable standalone feat because undrafted free agents should be vying for the practice squad, not second-team assignments. One week later, the plot thickened. Pace Jr. began experiencing action with the first-teamers.

The former Bearcat has one major Vikings-themed item in his favor besides his budding and exciting skillset: the Vikings linebackers aren’t gangbusters. Jordan Hicks and Brian Asamoah are penciled in as the starters, and while those men are notable for Vikings fans, the rest of the country does the Snoop Dogg who? GIF regarding Minnesota’s LBs.

Ivan Pace Jr. of Colerain High School wins boys athlete of the year award during there Sports Awards, sponsored by TriHealth, on Thursday, April 18, 2019, at Cincinnati Music Hall in Cincinnati. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer.

If Pace Jr. sustains this three-week-long, well, pace, he will absolutely encounter meaningful regular season snaps. It is not breaking news for a rookie linebacker to achieve such a feat. They do it all the time. Undrafted rookies, though, shouldn’t be gaining notoriety at training camp and in preseason games. The process should take at least a year. Even Adam Thielen’s ascension to Vikings folklore took about two years.

But Pace Jr. is different. The NFL, on the whole, blundered by writing him off as too short. He was a machine at Cincinnati.

And soon, Pace Jr. will machinize the Vikings defense. It’s a matter of when.

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).

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