The transfer portal provides new opportunities. And sometimes, those new opportunities unleash a player to new heights.
Such was the case with inside linebacker Ivan Pace Jr., who transferred from Miami (OH) to crosstown rival Cincinnati for his senior season to play alongside his brother Deshawn. In a perfect environment, Ivan instantly became one of the most dominant defenders in the entire sport. He claimed AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was named a consensus All-American — the first in Cincinnati history — after terrorizing backfields and ball carriers from September through December.
That dominance was recognized by the Minnesota Vikings, which signed Pace to a free agent deal Saturday moments following the conclusion of the NFL Draft.
Pace finished third in the FBS in tackles for loss with 20.5 and sixth in total tackles in 2022 with 136 — checking in at first in the AAC in both categories. His loaded senior stat-line also featured 9.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, and four pass deflections from the inside linebacker position. Pace tallied at least two tackles for loss in six games last year and exceeded 10 tackles on seven different occasions, proving his worth as a prominent run stopper and backfield invader.
Even prior to transferring to Cincinnati, Pace was a star in the MAC at Miami (OH). He was a First Team All-MAC selection in 2021 after producing 4.0 sacks and 13.0 tackles for loss for the RedHawks. And Pace is actually an NCAA recordholder in a major category from his tenure at Miami. As a true freshman, he registered 6.0 sacks in a single game against Akron, tying Elvis Dumervil (Louisville) and Ameer Ismail (Western Michigan) for the most all-time.
Pace was invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, but did not participate in the drills. He measured in at 5’10” and 231 pounds. He finally demonstrated his attributes at Cincinnati’s Pro Day on March 23 where he ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash and logged a 35-inch vertical jump. Although the lack of Combine numbers clouded Pace’s talents to scouts on the grandest pre-draft stage, he proved his worth at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL. Pace recorded a game-best 10 tackles while leading his team to a 27-10 victory in the Senior Bowl, securing Defensive MVP honors as all 32 NFL teams were in attendance.
Pace’s status as an undrafted player was surprising, but he could instantly make a name for himself in Minnesota, similarly to how Malcolm Rodriguez impressed with the Detroit Lions as a rookie after being overlooked due to his 5’11”, 230-pound frame. The Vikings linebacker room features names such as Brian Asamoah, Marcus Davenport, and Jordan Hicks as the likely starters, with reserves being D.J. Wonnum, Troy Dye, and Troy Weaver.