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Two Vikings Made PFF’s All-Rookie Team

And neither of them were top 100 draft picks

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Minnesota Vikings v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images

Pro Football Focus (PFF) has released its All-Rookie Team for the 2023 season, which included two Minnesota Vikings’ defenders: Ivan Pace Jr. and Mekhi Blackmon. Only the Texans (with 3x the draft capital of the Vikings) had more players make the list.

Rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison, who had the third-most receiving yards among rookie wide receivers this season and the most touchdowns, lost out to Puka Nacua, Rashee Rice, and Tank Dell. Those were the three highest graded wide receivers and all had higher yards per route run than Addison as well, who was likely held back some by the falloff in quarterback play the second-half of the season.

The Vikings were able to find a couple of gems pretty late in the draft- or in Pace’s case, after the draft. Blackmon was the last pick of Day Two in last year’s draft, while Pace went undrafted. Both had a history of production in college but were overlooked by the scouting community due to size, and in Blackmon’s case age may have been a factor too. But of the 22 players selected to the PFF All-Rookie team, only four were picked after Blackmon, and only one other UDFA made the list.

Here is what PFF had to say about each of the Vikings selected to their All-Rookie Team:

CB Mekhi Blackmon

Blackmon finished third among rookie cornerbacks in overall and PFF coverage grade at 71.7. He is also the only rookie to play 400 snaps and not miss a tackle. That reliability has been a key asset in Minnesota’s rebuilt secondary.

Blackmon also proved to be a ballhawk, leading his team with eight pass breakups despite playing just the seventh-most coverage snaps.

Blackmon’s rookie-year performance is likely to lead to a larger role for him next season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him as a starter. The other two cornerbacks selected to the PFF All-Rookie team were Devon Witherspoon (#5 overall pick) and Brian Branch (#46 overall pick). Blackmon was selected with the 103rd pick- the last pick of the third round.

LB Ivan Pace Jr.

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.

The Vikings went after Pace aggressively after the draft, paying him among the highest amounts in guaranteed money for a UDFA, and from the get-go in training camp he was treated more like a first-round pick than a UDFA, quickly getting first-team reps and later becoming the backup signal caller on defense.

Brian Flores-led defenses from New England to Miami featured linebackers that lead the league in pass rush snaps, and this season was no different. Flores knew he needed a linebacker that could blitz, and Pace was the most effective blitzing linebacker in college football, in addition to being good at pretty much everything else. But as a rookie in the NFL, Pace’s production in coverage was a pleasant surprise. Pace was also named one of the Top 15 rookies this season by PFF, which added this about his performance this season:

The undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati has proven dangerous for opposing offenses on passing downs, earning 77.0-plus grades as a pass-rusher (78.0) and in coverage (77.7). Pace’s 21.7% pass rush win rate led all qualifying defenders in the class. In coverage, he surrendered fewer yards per coverage snap (0.59) than all but one qualifying first-year cornerback.

Pace remains a long-shot to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY) award, in part because off-ball linebacker is not a premium position, and some bigger names and first-round picks had good rookie seasons too, but he without question was the defensive steal of the 2023 draft, and is in the running, along with WR Puka Nacua, who led all rookie receivers but was a 5th round pick, for the biggest overall steal of the draft.

Pace will undoubtedly continue as a starter next season for the Vikings and it will be interesting to see how he may improve in his second season in the league.

Poll

Which player will have a bigger impact for the Vikings next season?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Mekhi Blackmon
    (268 votes)
  • 75%
    Ivan Pace Jr.
    (837 votes)
1105 votes total Vote Now