PFF Nominates 2024 Vikings Breakout Candidate

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After a disappointing 2023 season derailed by injuries, the Minnesota Vikings want to return to the postseason in 2024, limiting the hiatus to only one campaign. But there are many uncertainties with quarterback Kirk Cousins and Pro Bowler Danielle Hunter slated to be hot commodities in free agency. But there are some reasons to be optimistic.

PFF Nominates 2024 Vikings Breakout Candidate

breakout candidate
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The offense is built around a strong group of receivers with Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and T.J. Hockenson. Injuries plagued Jefferson and Hockenson in 2023, and the tight end will likely need all offseason to recover, but having three fantastic weapons is a big advantage.

On defense, coordinator Brian Flores has been a fabulous addition to the coaching staff, transforming the defense from an embarrassing unit to a decent one, especially in the middle of the season. And he did it without a bunch of additions. The two main contributors added were linebacker Ivan Pace and Byron Murphy.

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Pace has been a remarkable story as a player who continues to beat the odds of an undersized player. After falling out of the draft, he found the perfect spot to prosper in the NFL. Pro Football Focus designated him as the team’s breakout player in 2024.

Pace finished among the top-10 defensive rookies in overall PFF grade (77.2), pass-rush grade (78.0) and coverage grade (77.7). He did this in what was mostly a part-time role, though he did get the lead role when Jordan Hicks was on injured reserve, but for most of the year, he was limited to being the secondary linebacker in Brian Flores’ defense. Due to Hicks being a pending free agent and Pace showing such promise as a rookie, 2024 could be an even bigger year for the undrafted linebacker out of Cincinnati.

Opening training camp with the expectations to earn a roster spot but to be only a rotational player and perhaps pass-rush specialist, Pace managed to get a significant role in Flores’ defense, a unit that desperately needed an infusion of youth.

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He played well in all facets of linebacker play–coverage, pass-rush, and run defense. His undersized body has rarely been an issue. Flores found a role that fits nicely with his skill set, foremost his nose for the football and the ability to get to the quarterback.

The defensive coach also helped his two safeties, Josh Metellus and Camryn Bynum, to breakout campaigns, so elevating Pace is not too far-fetched.

Jordan Hicks was the team’s top linebacker, with Pace playing next to him for the majority of the plays. But the rookie’s best tenure came without the veteran when he was forced to miss time on IR with a lower leg injury. The Vikings needed someone to take over his green dot to call the plays and audibles on the field. And, like always, he was up for the task and got the job done.

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Hicks is slated to be an unrestricted free agent, and a departure would open up even more playing time for Pace, and perhaps Brian Asamoah could claim a more prominent role in his third season after an injury-plagued sophomore campaign.

Other potential breakout candidates on the defense are cornerbacks Andrew Booth, Akayleb Evans, and Mekhi Blackmon. One of those guys can earn a starting job. The same can be said about defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy.

Pace has earned a spot on the All-Rookie team but has been overlooked in the Rookie of the Year race. There is a big chance he will be even better in his second season.

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