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Vikings' Ivan Pace Jr. has entered the rookie of the year conversation

Pace was named NFC Defender of the Week for his 13 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception against the Raiders

Undrafted rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. has been a force on a rejuvenated Vikings defense this season. Could he be in line to do something no Vikings rookie has ever done: win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award?

With Brian Flores in charge the Vikings defense has improved beyond even the most optimistic fans' wildest dreams. In 2022, the Vikings allowed the third-most points and the second-most yards in the league. Fast forward through 14 weeks of the 2023 season and Minnesota has allowed the fifth-fewest points and 10th-fewest yards in the NFL. A big part of that turnaround has been an influx of youth, specifically Pace in the center of the defense, calling plays now with Jordan Hicks' injury.

It's a bit of a long shot at this point but some Vegas sportsbooks give Pace the fourth-best odds to win the award, behind Philadelphia's Jalen Carter, Houston's Will Anderson Jr. and Seattle's Devon Witherspoon.

Defensive Rookie of the Year betting odds

Defensive Rookie of the Year betting odds

Season comparisons

  • Jalen Carter: 27 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovered, 1 fumble recovery for a TD
  • Will Anderson Jr.: 42 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 pass defended
  • Devon Witherspoon: 65 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 1 pick-six, 16 passes defensed
  • Ivan Pace Jr.: 68 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble

Among rookie defenders, Pace has the seventh-best overall defensive grade, according to Pro Football Focus. San Francisco safety J'Ayir Brown has the best grade at 86.9, but Pace's 80.2 is within four points of favorites Carter, Anderson Jr., and Witherspoon.

PFF's top graded rookie defenders

PFF's top graded rookie defenders

While five Vikings have won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, Minnesota has never had a defensive rookie of the year.

Pace outshined everybody on the field Sunday in the Vikings' 3-0 win over the Raiders, collecting 13 tackles, a sack and a game-sealing interception. For his efforts, Pace was awarded the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, marking the third different Vikings defender to win the award this season (Cam Bynum and Jordan Hicks are the others). 

Ivan Pace Jr.

Ivan Pace Jr. stares towards Russell Wilson during Minnesota's game against the Broncos in Denver.