The Minnesota Vikings signed 15 undrafted rookie free agents following the conclusion of last weekend’s draft, including a prospect who was one of college football’s most dominant defenders.
Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. was Pro Football Focus‘ highest-graded linebacker last season with a 93.2 overall defensive grade. He was a unanimous All-American, recording 136 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks, four passes defended, and two forced fumbles in 2022.
Pace was considered a third- t0 fifth-round prospect due to questions surrounding if he can excel in the league as an undersized linebacker. However, he is an ideal fit for Brian Flores’ defense which plans to bring pressure from nearly every position group.
“You won’t find NFL linebackers that are 5-foot-10 and 231 pounds, yet that’s the size and shape that Pace brings to the table. He has incredibly fun tape, but he also has a path to playing time in the NFL as a factor on the blitz, where he is virtually unstoppable,” PFF’s Sam Monson wrote, naming Pace his favorite linebacker in the draft. “In 2022, he recorded a 93.3 PFF pass-rush grade, rushing the passer 180 times, and during the one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl, he was every running back’s nightmare in Mobile.”
Ivan Pace Jr. a Fit for Vikings DC Brian Flores
Pace was ranked the ninth-best linebacker of this year’s draft class by The Athletic’s Dane Brugler due to his undeniable dominance at Cincinnati.
“Although his frenetic play will take him out of plays at times, he is scrappy, strong and competes like a UFC fighter. Overall, Pace is undersized and faces questions about his ability as an every-down player in the NFL, but he is instinctive with the play speed, urgency and contact balance to consistently affect the game with his effort,” Brugler wrote in his draft guide, slotting Pace as a fourth-round prospect. “His exact NFL position fit will be different from scheme to scheme, but it will be important for him to carve out a role on special teams to secure a roster spot.”
Pace happens to play the position of Flores’ expertise. The Vikings defense coordinator played linebacker in college and is coming off a stint as the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker coach after his fallout with the Miami Dolphins.
In a one-year stint in Pittsburgh, Flores helped former 10th overall pick Devin Bush, also undersized at 5-foot-11, 234 pounds, correct his course in the league. Bush averaged 7.6 missed tackles a season in his first three years as a Steeler. Last season with Flores, Bush missed just one tackle and posted a missed tackle rate of just 1.2%, per Pro Football Reference.
Flores’ experience in developing and scouting at the position is a reason why Minnesota was comfortable not investing heavily in the position in free agency and the draft.
But landing Pace as an undrafted free agent signing could be one of the biggest steals this year.
Ivan Pace Jr. Sends NFL Strong Message After Going Undrafted
After learning the Vikings would give Pace his shot in the NFL, the linebacker took to social media to send a strong message to the league after he went undrafted.
“Y’all done f***** up,” he commented, sharing the news of his signing on Instagram.
He’ll join a linebacker room helmed by veteran Jordan Hicks and 2022 third-round pick Brian Asamoah. Former Los Angeles Rams linebacker Troy Reeder was signed in the offseason and should have the fast track as a primary backup. William Kwenkeu, Troy Dye, Wilson Huber and Abraham Beauplan will be Pace’s immediate competition come training camp.