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Undrafted Linebacker Making Waves at Vikings Training Camp

Ivan Pace Jr. is undersized, but he can play. That's quickly become apparent at Vikings camp.

The hype began as soon as the Vikings signed former Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. as an undrafted free agent on April 29th.

Pace was a unanimous All-American last year after putting up ridiculous numbers (137 tackles, 21.5 TFL, 10.0 sacks, 4 PD, 3 FF) in his lone season with the Bearcats. Pro Football Focus graded him as the best linebacker in the country. And yet, because he's 5'10" and 230 pounds, all 32 teams overlooked him over the course of seven rounds.

As soon as the Vikings signed him, you could understand the argument for Pace as a potential steal and one of the premier UDFAs in this class.

"He was a major priority for us," head coach Kevin O'Connell said in the spring. "Felt like his tape was one of the best linebackers in the draft, we really thought. How he plays, he's physical, he gets off blocks and is a tackling machine. Excited to have him in that room and see a lot of upside for him."

Undrafted players don't normally come with a lot of buzz. All Pace has done to start his first Vikings training camp is live up to — and perhaps even exceed — the lofty expectations. He's been one of the biggest standouts of this year's camp, showing off his instincts, quickness, and playmaking ability time and time again. Pace swiftly earned a heavy workload on the second-team defense and has even seen some first-team reps over the past week or so.

Pace's skillset is reminiscent of Brian Asamoah, the Vikings' 2022 third-round pick who is a projected starter alongside veteran Jordan Hicks this year. Asamoah is also undersized at 6'0", 226 pounds, though his athletic testing numbers were better than Pace's. Both are capable of flying to the ball and making plays in space, which makes them — on paper — great fits for Brian Flores' attacking style of defense.

"Ivan, he's a good young player, he's got some ability," Flores said recently. "There's always that small DB who can play, small linebacker, small defensive tackle, etc. etc. But they've got instincts, they've got ability that allows them to overcome some of the height or weight or whatever it is."

Safety Harrison Smith, the Vikings' longest-tenured player, has also taken notice of Pace's play.

"I'll give you one under-the-radar (guy) — Ivan Pace, I think, will show up on some Seattle tape," Smith told NFL Network, referring to the Vikings' preseason opener against the Seahawks on Thursday night.

It's still very early for Pace, and it's worth keeping in mind that his lack of size would make him a notable outlier if he becomes a productive NFL player. He didn't go undrafted for no reason. Then again, sometimes size gets weighted too heavily. The college stats and tape tell you Pace is a darn good football player, and he's backed that up during the first couple weeks of training camp.

If he makes some plays in Seattle, the hype will only continue to grow.

"I know my type of talent I got, and I know the heart I got in this game, and I know I'm never going to let anything stop me from being the best I can be," Pace told KARE11. "Just getting ready for my first NFL game, even though it's a preseason game, I'm just gonna ball and show them that I can be one of those guys."

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