Vikings Rookie Desires an Award

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Minnesota’s rookie class was an underrated group in 2023 despite only having five draft picks when the first round kicked off. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah secured a sixth pick through some trades while also striking gold with his undrafted rookie class. Three players had major roles in their debut seasons.

Vikings Rookie Desires an Award

Jordan Addison was a homerun first-round selection, hitting the ground running and joining an elite group of players by putting up fantastic numbers. Unless the Vikings both Justin Jefferson’s contract negotiations or one of them hits an unforeseen wall, they should be able to form an elite WR duo for years to come.

Cornerback Mekhi Blackmon earned the CB3 role behind starters Akayleb Evans and Byron Murphy and logged over 400 snaps on defense. He had some expected rookie struggles, though overall, playing a decent season.

Vikings Rookie Desires an Award
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But one player massively exceeded expectations. While Blackmon and Addison were the two top picks, Ivan Pace somehow fell all the way, sliding into the undrafted free-agent pool after 32 franchises passed on him, making 259 selections.

Pace chose the Vikings as he fit Brian Flores’ defense pretty well. It was not just a good fit. It was a match made in heaven. The linebacker is an excellent pass-rusher, as he had proven in college, racking up 10 sacks in his final season. But he also produced a bunch of tackles (137) and tackles for loss (21.5), and he wasn’t too shabby in coverage. All it took was concerns about his size for the unanimous All-American to be completely forgotten when the draft rolled around.

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Early in training camp, it was obvious that he was not just an undrafted player fighting for a roster spot, but a major role on defense was within reach. He flashed his skills in the preseason and even showed promise as a green-dot player, the guy on the field who amplified the defensive play calls to his teammates.

Sophomore Brian Asamoah was expected to start, but he was usurped by Pace, whose role grew over time, especially when Jordan Hicks landed on IR. That led to Pace calling plays on defense and playing a huge percentage of snaps. Throughout the season, Pace logged 706 snaps on defense and 249 more on special teams.

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The rookie hasn’t been shy to go on social media to address his doubters. And he once again did so after the season finale, criticizing folks for the frequent usage of the word undrafted when talking about him and saying he deserves Defensive Player of the Year.

Well, he’s not wrong, as he should at least get some consideration for the prestigious award. He appeared in all 17 games and started 11 contests, tabulating 102 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss. Pace led all rookies in tackles and all rookie inside linebackers in sacks, pressures, QB hits, and forced turnovers, and he didn’t allow a touchdown in coverage.

However, Jalen Carter is the betting favorite, followed by Will Anderson and Kobie Turner. All other players are long shots. The Vikings have never had one of their rookies win the award.

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Regardless of the potential disrespect and non-consideration, Pace has a bright future ahead of him. He just turned 23 and has proven that he can be a starting linebacker in the NFL. It would be a big shocker if he returned to a bench role. With Brian Flores likely to return for another season, the sky is the limit for Flores’ student.

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