Vikings Rookie Named Overperformer of His Draft Class

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Kwesi Adofo-Mensah received a lot of criticism for his first draft class in charge of the Vikings, mainly because folks were impatient. The 2022 group produced Ed Ingram, Akayleb Evans, and Ty Chandler as significant contributors in their sophomore seasons, with Andrew Booth showing some flashes. The major problem, however, is that Lewis Cine, the first-round pick, can’t get on the field.

Vikings Rookie Named Overperformer of His Draft Class

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But because of those objections, his second draft class had to deliver, and it sure has. Entering the draft with only five picks and without a second-rounder, Adofo-Mensah added Jordan Addison and Mekhi Blackmon as his first two choices. Addison has been phenomenal, and the future is bright for him. Cornerback Blackmon had his ups and downs but is an intriguing player for the upcoming season.

Besides those drafted guys, the general manager found a superstar in the pool of undrafted players, signing linebacker Ivan Pace after the draft. Not only did he make the team, but he was one of the bright spots for a defense that desperately needed an infusion of youth.

Vikings Rookie Named Overperformer of His Draft Class
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He was the answer of ESPN’s draft expert Jordan Reid when it comes to overperforming rookies:

Ivan Pace Jr., ILB, Minnesota Vikings. As an undrafted rookie in the middle of Brian Flores’ defense, Pace exceeded expectations. He quickly overtook the starting middle linebacker spot after a training camp battle entering the season and never looked back. He finished the regular season with 97 tackles, one interception and 2.5 sacks.

Pace’s aggressive and physical nature fit perfectly in the Vikings’ attacking scheme that relies heavily on generating pressure by blitzing second-level defenders. Pace is one key cog the team can pencil in as a starter in the middle in 2024.

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Pace expected to hear his name in the draft, but all 32 teams passed on him multiple times. The knock on him was the size, an understanding concern, although that shouldn’t be enough to drop a unanimous All-American who spent his college career collecting tackles, sacks, and tackles for loss like candy all the way to the end of the draft without receiving a phone call from a team. The NFL made a big mistake.

The rookie joined a team with penciled-in starters Jordan Hicks and Brian Asamoah, but a good training camp earned Pace a significant role on defense, including a starting job.

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Throughout his debut season, Pace was much more than a blitzing specialist. He turned into a complete linebacker, showcasing coverage skills, the ability to put pressure on the quarterback, and a nose for the football. He played 706 snaps on defense and 249 on special teams.

A guy who always has a chip on his shoulder, perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game was when Hicks got hurt and Pace took over the green dot responsibilities, receiving play calls from Brian Flores and informing his teammates of the call. He also called audibles on the field. Those things are impressive for a seasoned veteran.

It would be a massive surprise if Pace doesn’t play a huge role in the future of Minnesota’s defense. With Hicks currently scheduled to hit free agency, his role might even grow.

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