Following the 2023 NFL Draft, the Vikings signed Ivan Pace Jr., LB, Cincinnati, as an undrafted free agent (UDFA). Pace Jr. was ranked 153rd on the industry consensus draft board and was the 11th ranked linebacker.
Pace Jr. is an undersized linebacker, mainly due to his height. Comparing him to Eric Kendricks, he’s basically two inches shorter with the same long speed but relatively lacking in the explosive traits- 10-yard split, vertical and broad jump- with mixed agility scores. He is 22 years old.
Fastest LB at 2022 @seniorbowl was Falcons second-rounder Troy Anderson at 20.29 mph per @ZebraTechnology. Anderson blazed 4.42 official 40-yd dash time at Combine.— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 18, 2023
This year’s fastest LB in Mobile was Cincy’s Ivan Pace Jr. at ridiculous 20.58 mph. Get your ready for Indy! pic.twitter.com/yxZG4KyUji
Pace was recorded as the fastest linebacker on the field at the Senior Bowl this year, and faster than Troy Anderson last year who ran a 4.42” 40. Pace ran only a 4.62” 40, so there seems to be a difference in timed vs. play speed.
Pace played three seasons at Miami of Ohio before transferring to Cincinnati for his senior year. He was first-team All-MAC his junior year, and was a unanimous All-American, AAC Defensive Player of the Year, first team All-AAC, and led the conference in tackles and TFLs his senior year. He was also named the Defensive MVP at the Senior Bowl.
PFF Profile and Stats
- Ivan Pace Jr. was not only PFF’s highest graded linebacker in all of college football last season, he was also their second-highest graded defender- regardless of position- with a 93.2 overall grade (min. 100 snaps). Among FBS linebackers, he ranked:
- #1 in overall defensive grade (93.3)
- #1 in pass rush grade (93.3)
- #1 in pass rush productivity (20.3)
- #1 in pass rush win % (36.4%)
- #1 (tied) in batted passes (2)
- #1 in pressures (55)
- #1 in sacks (12)
- #1 in QB hits (18)
- #3 in QB hurries (25)
- #3 in run defense grade (90.7)
- #3 in tackles (74)
- #3 in assists (31)
- #1 in run stops (defensive win)
- #8 in coverage snaps per target (18.4)
Here are a few of the leading media scouting reports on Ivan Pace Jr..
Dane Brugler, The Athletic
BACKGROUND: Ivan Pace Jr. grew up in Cincinnati and developed a love for football at a young age. His father (Ivan Sr.) played on the defensive line at Colerain High School (1992-95), and Ivan Jr. followed in his footsteps, playing both ways at Colerain as a linebacker and fullback. A three-year varsity starter, he led Colerain to a 14-1 record as a senior with the only loss coming to St. Edward in the 2018 state championship game. In his final season, Pace was named Ohio’s Defensive Player of the Year with 84 tackles, 6.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and a pick-six interception. In Colerain’s triple-option offense, he rushed for 1,441 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior. Pace finished his prep career with 211 tackles and 2,434 rushing yards. He also lettered in wrestling and won the conference title as a senior in the 220-pound weight class.
A two-star recruit, Pace was the No. 142 inside linebacker in the 2019 recruiting class and the No. 113 recruit in Ohio. With questions about his size and position fit, he went vastly underrecruited and had more offers from Division II programs than Division I. Pace finished with three FBS-level offers and committed to nearby Miami (Ohio) over Ohio and Toledo. After three seasons with the RedHawks, including leading the MAC in tackles in 2021, Pace entered the transfer portal and was a popular target for several programs. Despite offers from SEC programs like Arkansas, Missouri and LSU, he decided to return home and play with his brother, signing with Luke Fickell and the Bearcats for the 2022 season. His younger brother (Deshawn) is a rising senior linebacker at Cincinnati. Pace accepted his invitation to the 2023 Senior Bowl (voted the National team’s linebacker practice player-of-the-week).
STRENGTHS: Energetic, violent on-field demeanor … impressive play strength for his size, especially in his lower body, and can squat a house (thick thighs, balled-up calves) … terrific box instincts and understands angles … has the blitzing quickness to cross the face of blockers or force holds (led all FBS off-ball linebackers with 55 pressures in 2022) … uses his natural leverage and contact balance to slither around blocks (no surprise he was a wrestling champion in high school) … tackles like a rattlesnake, playing low and striking in a blink … mean-spirited through the whistle and doesn’t know how to go half-speed … consistently productive at two different programs … has decent experience on kick and punt return coverages … only the fourth player in Cincinnati history with double-digit sacks in a season and first since Connor Barwin in 2008.
WEAKNESSES: Undersized and lacks the length that NFL teams desire in a downhill player … struggles to shake free from blockers once engaged/engulfed inside the tackle box … can be sealed off if he doesn’t stay ahead of the play … his animated play style will lead to false steps when he takes the cheese … plays in overdrive, which leads to missed tackles … not overly fluid and will struggle to finish ball carriers that he can’t wrap-and-drive … inconsistent in reverse with match-up concerns as a coverage player … questionable position fit at the next level.
SUMMARY: A one-year starter at Cincinnati, Pace was a downhill MIKE linebacker in defensive coordinator Mike Tressel’s 3-3-5 base scheme. A few months removed from having nine players drafted, including Sauce Gardner, Pace became the first player in Cincinnati history to earn unanimous All-American honors and was the only player in college football to register at least 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2022. With his sheriff’s mentality and recognition skills, Pace trusts what he sees and runs around the field like my toddler on a sugar buzz after a weekend at grandma’s house. 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. 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.
GRADE: 4th Round
Lance Zierlein, nfl.com
A rare blend of leverage, toughness and tackle obsession makes Pace’s tape a fun day of film study. He might be one of the strongest players in the 2023 NFL Draft from a pound-for-pound standpoint. He’s able to slip and club blockers out of the way with lower-body anchor and elite contact balance. He was cleared to take shots downhill by the defense, which bolstered his production, but his instincts and feel for finding routes to the ball seem to drive him. It is hard not to love Pace’s game tape, but his lack of length and speed could create inconsistencies at the next level.
- Recorded 262 tackles with 34.5 for loss over the last two seasons.
- Densely bound frame with rare lower-body power.
- Rare contact balance to withstand force and stay balanced.
- GPS to reroute and go make the play.
- Feet and athleticism to slip block seamlessly when needed.
- Surprisingly effective as a stand-up rusher over the guard.
- Balances eyes between routes and quarterback in coverage.
- Possesses the heart of a special teams lion.
- Strong but gets engulfed by wide-bodies at times.
- Unable to effectively punch and separate.
- Below average lateral quickness in tight quarters.
- Missing desired field range to capture outside run.
- Lacks length needed for consistent tackle finishing.
- Will struggle to stay connected in man coverage.
Projection: 5th round
Brentley Weissmann, The Draft Network
Ivan Pace Jr. is a hyper-productive linebacker who successfully made the jump from Miami-OH to Cincinnati look easy. He was one of the most productive linebackers in college this past season and was named to multiple All-American rosters.
Pace is a heat-seeking missile who has a nose for the football. Pace aligns in the middle of the Bearcats’ defense and appears to be the one making the calls. He has outstanding instincts for the position and seems to know where the ball is going every single play. He is able to use those instincts as well as his explosive burst and short-area quickness to shoot behind the line of scrimmage and make tackles for loss. He has above-average range sideline to sideline and flashes as a tackler.
While Pace offers exciting playmaking ability as a run defender due to his ability to shoot gaps and deliver hard hits, he lacks the length and mass to consistently fight off blocks in the box. Too often he is covered up by guards working through the second level and cannot fight off the block. His energetic and active playstyle results in a bunch of over-run plays where he leaves room for cut-back lanes for ball carriers.
In coverage, he is a good athlete with quickness to stay connected in man and instincts to know where to get to in zone. With that said, his lack of size and length limits his ability to defend taller tight ends who can simply win at the catch point. Perhaps his best skills are his blitzing ability, as he knows how to time the snap and get home with speed and a variety of rush moves, which includes an impressive spin move.
Overall, Pace has everything you want in an inside backer. He has instincts, toughness, and good burst/speed, he just lacks the requisite size and length to excel in the NFL.
Top Reasons to Buy In:
- Short-area quickness and burst
- Play temperament
Top Reasons For Concern:
- Man coverage
Grade: 72/100 (fourth-round value)
Ivan Pace Jr. vs Miami (OH) (2022)
Cincinnati Defense (Ivan Pace Jr. #0) vs. Arkansas (2022)
Cincinnati Defense (Ivan Pace Jr. #0) vs. UCF (2022)
Cincinnati Defense (Ivan Pace Jr. #0) vs. SMU (2022)
Cincinnati Defense (Ivan Pace Jr. #0) vs. Tulane (2022)
Ivan Pace Jr’s Fit with the Minnesota Vikings
In considering Pace’s fit with the Vikings, it’s important to consider why he wasn’t drafted.
Pace Jr’s evaluation is perhaps one of the more polarizing in terms of valuing production or traits more in the overall evaluation. Pace’s production was off-the-charts. He was the most productive, highest-graded linebacker in the country last season and in this year’s draft. He was the defensive MVP at the Senior Bowl and the defensive linebacker of the week in Senior Bowl practices. But at just 5’10”, some concerns in his athletic testing, and his role in an NFL defense, teams decided to pass on him.
It’s not clear that Pace’s traits are a major concern at the NFL level, unlike say, Hercules Mata’afa, another super productive college player the Vikings signed as a UDFA several years back, but a ‘tweener’ and very undersized for a defensive lineman. Pace is simply about 2-4” short for a linebacker, but not severely lacking in other traits.
That’s not to say there isn’t some concern for his athletic traits, but they don’t appear to be liabilities on the field. In fact you could argue that Pace Jr. is a player that simply didn’t test well and his athletic tests aren’t a good reflection of his speed and agility on the field. You could also argue that Pace Jr’s instincts and anticipation help overcome any athletic shortcomings, if he has them.
The other issue with Pace Jr. is his role. Clearly his best role is as a blitzer. But for most teams, blitzing is an ancillary skill as most teams don’t ask their linebackers to blitz with any frequency. Pace Jr. has shown to be an able run defender and tackler, if at times overaggressive or sometimes unable to get off blocks- but these are relatively minor concerns and are not unique to Pace Jr.. He’s also somewhat unproven in coverage, and was not asked to play man coverage much- if at all. Still, with only 14 targets in 267 coverage snaps last season, resulting in 114 receiving yards allowed, he doesn’t appear to have been exploited much in coverage.
Overall, Pace Jr. has more of a Micah Parsons-type skillset as a linebacker, with strengths as a pass rusher and run defender, but perhaps only average or so in coverage. The difference being that Parsons had prototypical traits for the off-ball linebacker position, and similar production as Pace Jr. at Penn State before opting out of the Covid year and being drafted #12 overall.
For the Vikings and Brian Flores, unlike many other teams, Pace Jr’s skillset is a much better fit. He can play an inside linebacker spot as a run defender and blitzer in Flores’ aggressive scheme, but also drop back occasionally in zone coverage and occupy a throwing lane. In Flores’ scheme, Pace Jr. could have roughly equal snaps as a blitzer, run defender, and in coverage, or slightly skewed toward the former. He can move around the line and execute stunts and twists, has the range as run defender to make plays outside, and can serve as an adequate zone defender in coverage. He also has the skillset that could make him an effective weapon on special teams coverage units.
A successful rookie season for Pace Jr. would be to first make the 53-man roster as a backup linebacker behind Jordan Hicks, contributing on special teams and earning some reps at linebacker similar to Brian Asamoah last season. Ultimately if things work out with Pace Jr., he could end up replacing Hicks as a starting linebacker next season. Even if he falls short of that, he could also serve a useful role as a special teamer and backup linebacker.
What level will Ivan Pace Jr. reach in the NFL?
This poll is closed
Top ten in his position
Above average starter
Below average starter
He won’t be a starter