The Road to 53: LB Ivan Pace Can Be a Dream Fit in the Vikings Defense

Vikings Receive Even More Praise for 2023 UDFA Class
Nov 5, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) reacts after sacking Navy Midshipmen quarterback Xavier Arline (not pictured) in the second half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings roster is just about set for training camp this summer, and with that, the offseason moves past the roster construction phase and into the roster evaluation phase. As we get our first glimpses of the Vikings roster in action throughout the summer, it’s time to evaluate which players should be candidates to make the final 53-man roster during training camp. Today, we continue the “Road to 53” by discussing LB Ivan Pace.


LB Ivan Pace
Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) jogs back to the locker room after pregame ceremonies recognizing seniors on the roster before the first quarter quarter during a college football game against the Tulane Green Wave, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.

Ivan Pace was very much an under-the-radar prospect following his high school years. He was listed as a two-star recruit by 24/7 Sports coming out of Colerain High School in Cincinnati, ranked as the 127th-best inside linebacker in the class of 2018.

Pace committed to the University of Miami (Ohio) for the 2019 season, and almost immediately, he found himself making an impact in the RedHawks program, playing 10+ defensive snaps in seven games. During that freshman season, the linebacker recorded 19 total tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. Miami went 8-6 on the season, including 6-2 in the MAC, and lost to Louisiana in the LendingTree Bowl by a score of 27-17.

To this point in his career, Pace had largely been a rotational piece on the RedHawks defense, playing a total of 173 defensive snaps in 2019 without making a single start. While 2020 finally saw the linebacker get into the starting lineup, it didn’t offer Pace or the RedHawks much of an opportunity to build off their first winning season since 2010.

The already shortened season due to Covid became even shorter for Miami due to multiple exposures to the virus, and the program played just three games. They went 2-1, and Pace put together 26 tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss, and a pair of pass defenses.

Heading into 2021, Pace was looking forward to finally becoming a full-time starter at the linebacker spot. He took full advantage, starting all 13 games for Miami and filling up stat sheets on a weekly basis. In this first true season as a starter, he put together a ridiculous 125 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 passes defended, an interception, and a forced fumble.

In the end, Miami saw great improvements defensively, holding opponents to 23.1 points per game, finishing the year 7-6, including a Frisco Football Classic bowl game victory over North Texas. It was just the program’s third bowl victory since the 1970s. Pace was named a First Team All-MAC member for his contributions to the defense.

Following the 2021 season, Pace decided to take advantage of his new spotlight as a starting linebacker, and he transferred to the University of Cincinnati, getting a chance to spend his senior season in his hometown playing for the Bearcats who had just made history by appearing in the College Football Playoff during 2021, becoming the first Group of Five program to do so.

Pace certainly showed out in the program as well, recording 136 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 4 pass defenses, and 2 forced fumbles over 13 games. Pace led the conference in total tackles and tackles for loss while finishing second in sacks. He was named the AAC Defensive Player of the Year and was a consensus First Team All-American.

Pro Football Focus gave Pace a final defensive grade of 93.2, the second-highest in the country behind only his own teammate, Dontay Corleone. Perhaps more impressive, though, Pace played more defensive snaps (897) than any other player that finished within the top-20.

Following this strong season, along with a few good moments at the Senior Bowl in February, the general consensus seemed to be that Pace would be a mid-round draft selection due to his terrific on-field performances over the past few years.

However, that was not destined to be Pace’s path to the NFL. Instead, he went undrafted, and the Vikings signed him as an UDFA. Now, he is hoping to compete for a spot on the Vikings final roster this fall.

How Pace Can Impact the 2023 Vikings

Vikings Agree to Terms with 15 UDFAs
Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) celebrates a sack of Navy Midshipmen quarterback Xavier Arline (7) (not pictured) in the fourth quarter during a college football game, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Bearcats won, 20-10.

The best-case scenario for Ivan Pace with the Vikings is simple. If Brian Flores sticks with the same defensive philosophy that he used with the Miami Dolphins, Pace has a great shot at not only making the roster, but being a contributor almost immediately.

While he was head coach of the Dolphins, Flores utilized young, athletic linebackers as aggressive blitzers. One such linebacker that could be an immediate comparison for Pace is LB Samuel Eguavoen, who was given his first NFL chance by the Dolphins in 2019 as an undrafted free agent after his collegiate career at Texas Tech.

The two linebackers are very similarly built. Pace stands at 5’10 and 241 pounds while Eguavoen is 6’1 and 236 pounds. During his rookie season, Eguavoen played 278 snaps on the line along with 324 in the box, per PFF, and he blitzed a total of 63 times.

As for Pace, he lives largely in the box due to his lack of length, but he was a heavy blitzer last year in Cincinnati, putting 55 pressures on opposing QBs, and he earned a pass-rushing grade of 93.3 for the Bearcats, again all per PFF.

Obstacles in His Way

Sep 24, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) runs onto the field prior to the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of the day, Pace remains an undrafted free agent. Players such as, say, Brian Asamoah, Jordan Hicks, Troy Reeder, and even Troy Dye or William Kwenkeu may have precedent over him on the roster due to being NFL veterans and/or already being established in the Vikings organization.

Additionally, he is not necessarily the strongest in terms of pass coverage as an off-ball linebacker. Especially with the absence of Eric Kendricks, that could be a big deal as the Vikings fill out their linebacker room.

The Prediction

Sep 10, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Kennesaw State Owls running back Nykeem Farrow (3) runs with the ball against Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (0) in the first half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

In all, it is never a sure-thing for an undrafted free agent to make a roster. However, considering Flores’ history at the position along with Pace’s ideal fit as a blitzer and run-stopper, it seems like he has a terrific chance to make the Vikings final 53-man roster this fall. Look for him to not only be around in September, but also making an impact on the team.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.