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Ivan Pace Jr.
NFL Draft

Ivan Pace Jr. Proving Size Is Only 1 Factor

  • Jack McKessy
  • February 8, 2023
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After Alabama linebacker Henry To’o To’o withdrew from the Senior Bowl ahead of the start of practices last week, it presented a chance for all of the linebackers present to draw more attention from NFL coaches and scouts. One of the linebackers that stood out the most was Cincinnati’s Ivan Pace Jr.

Pace Jr. was one of the most impressive players at this year’s Senior Bowl—both in practices all week and the game. He was dominant in practice all week, winning reps in one-on-one drills and flying around the field in team sessions. On Saturday, Pace Jr. led all players with a game-high 10 tackles. So it wasn’t too surprising when, at week’s end, the unanimous All-American linebacker was named the National Team linebacker of the week and the 2023 Senior Bowl Defensive MVP.

One of the main characteristics counting against Pace Jr. is his size. In Mobile, Pace Jr. measured in at 5-foot-10 and 231 pounds. In a league in which linebackers are expected to have the capacity to play in pass coverage as well as run defense, the former Bearcat’s smaller stature could be a weakness in defending opposing tight ends or in deconstructing blocks.

Watching Pace Jr. in Mobile, his size didn’t come up as an issue at all. All week, he played as one of the most consistently physical players at his position group. He won just about every last one of his one-on-one drills in practices, using his quickness, agility, and strength to get past running backs trying to hold him off in pass protection. Pace Jr.’s skills as a blitzer are his strong suit, and he was able to show that off well at Senior Bowl practices.

It wasn’t just in blitzing drills that Pace Jr. was able to show off his potential in one-on-ones. Linebackers also ran a similar drill to show off their skills in man coverage against the running backs, and the Cincinnati product shined there too. Even without a ton of length, Pace Jr. was able to use his short-area quickness and burst to his advantage by getting to the ball and breaking up the pass before the running backs could make a play.

When it came time for the game, Pace Jr. demonstrated the skills in run defense that he’d shown off all week in practice. One of his most impressive plays showed how he could use his brute strength against offensive linemen trying to reach the second level to blow up a run play.

Size often matters in the NFL, especially when it comes to a position like linebacker. But Ivan Pace Jr. has proven he can play well above his size and be successful, earning some impressive accolades ahead of this year’s draft and raising his stock along the way.

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Jack McKessy