How Crazy Was Ivan Pace Jr.’s Season?

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The Minnesota Vikings didn’t draft Ivan Pace Jr. during the 2023 NFL Draft; in fact, no one did. In case you haven’t heard by now, he was passed over as teams suggested he was undersized.

How Crazy Was Ivan Pace Jr.’s Season?

Landing in purple thanks to a nice payday following the draft, Pace immediately positioned himself as a playmaker, putting up a season beyond his wildest expectations.

When the Vikings signed Ivan Pace Jr. to a three-year deal worth $2.715 million, the hope was that their prioritization of him as an undrafted commodity would pay off. I don’t think the expectations would be that he’d wear the green dot on defense and be a catalyst to a group that turned a corner under Brian Flores, but that is absolutely what took place.

How Crazy Was
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Maybe Pace Jr. was undersized by traditional measures coming out of Cincinnati, but looking back at his production throughout 2023, the way he played was substantially larger. Getting run in all 17 games for Minnesota, Pace Jr. started in 11 contests. He recorded 2.5 sacks on the season and contributed a whopping 102 tackles. His nine quarterback hits reflected him capitalizing on opportunities Flores provided, and he also recorded a pair of tackles for loss.

Heading into training camp, conventional wisdom suggested that Brian Asamoah was ready to take the next step forward. He had flashed in his first year, and the expectation was that he’d thrive under Flores. Instead, he played in just 13 games, drawing no starts and recording only seven tackles. After looking at the part of an emerging player in year one, he had definitely taken a back seat on the depth chart.

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Part of that was certainly due to the emergence of Pace Jr., and his strong season had others taking note. Pro Football Focus tabbed the Vikings linebacker as a member of their All-Rookie Team. They said, “One of two undrafted players on this list, Pace has been the perfect fit for Brian Flores’ defense in Minnesota. His 77.2 overall PFF grade leads all qualified rookie linebackers and ranks 17th in the league.

Pace’s trademark blitzing ability has carried over from his days at the University of Cincinnati. His 22.9% pass-rush win rate is the second highest among 85 linebackers with at least 20 pass-rush snaps this season.”

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It’s hard to overlook how important Pace Jr. was to Minnesota’s defense in his first year, and that makes it all the more exciting to think about what may be yet to come. As he develops in year two and can undergo a complete offseason with knowledge of the professional level, an All-Pro team being in his future isn’t without possibility.

The Vikings hit on Ivan Pace Jr. in the most significant way possible, and he will now be among the brightest stars on their defense for years to come.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.