Up-and-Coming Viking Earns a Little Bit of National Credibility

ivan pace
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He has arrived, especially if impressive rankings from CBS Sports are in play.

Up-and-Coming Viking Earns a Little Bit of National Credibility

That’s Ivan Pace Jr., a starting linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings — who is evidently the NFL’s 20th-best linebacker entering 2024.

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CBS Sports’ Jordan Dajani published Top 20 linebacker rankings last week, and Pace Jr. checked in at No. 20. “Let’s begin with a projection. Pace is not some solidified veteran that has been playing at a high level for multiple seasons. He was an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati that made the active roster of an NFL team his rookie year, then recorded 102 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, nine QB hits, two passes defensed and one interception in 17 games played with 11 starts,” Dajani explained.

At this time last year, Pace Jr. was about nine weeks removed from joining the Vikings’ roster as an undrafted free agent, and the hype train was just getting off the ground. The Cincinnati alumnus curiously didn’t get drafted in 2023, though most draft heads forecasted him as a mid- or late-round pick. He fell out of the event altogether, allowing Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to scoop the defender immediately after the draft. The acquisition paid off.

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Dajani added, “Not many were excited to watch the Vikings’ 3-0 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 14, but Pace made his mark with 13 combined tackles, one tackle for loss, one QB hit, one pass defensed and one interception. He was good as a blitzer, recording a 78.0 PFF pass-rush grade and 15 pressures.”

After the draft, folks began whispering, basically right away, that Pace Jr. would make the league pay for the draft snub, including Pace Jr. personally. Then, that’s what he did as soon as the regular season got rolling. Teammates like Harrison Smith warned fans that Pace Jr. was the real deal, and of course, the rookie backed up the praise. In fact, Pace Jr. earned a starter’s job out of the gate in 2023 — and never forfeited it. The rookie was even named the defensive playcaller for four games during Jordan Hicks‘ absence late in the season. He was that good, that ready, for the bright lights of the NFL.

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All told as a rookie, Pace Jr. notched 102 total tackles, 9 QB hits, 2.5 sacks, and an interception.

Pace Jr. also switched jersey numbers this offseason from No. 40 to No. 0. Marcus Davenport wore his collegiate No. 0 in 2023, but Davenport vamoosed for the Detroit Lions in March.

Last month, Pace Jr. gained recognition on Sporting News‘ “Best Under Age 25” team.

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The young linebacker is just 23.

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).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.