INDIANAPOLIS — If Ivan Pace Jr. had any doubts about himself, he left them in Cincinnati.
The consensus All-American linebacker for the Bearcats exuded plenty of confidence as he met with reporters Wednesday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine, attacking questions about his draft stock the way he does opponents on the football field: Head on.
“I’m a real versatile player,” he said. “I can play all over the field. I can be a great blitzer or a coverage dropper. I can play on the line, play on the edge or mostly anywhere on the field.”
Pace made every consequential All-America team and was a finalist for the Butkus Award last season after being one of the most productive linebackers in the country.
His numbers were eye-popping — 137 tackles, including 21.5 for loss and 10 sacks — but so was the way he played the game.
“I’ve just got relentless effort,” he said. “You can pull up somebody else’s highlights and I’ll be in the shot. You’ll see No. 0.”
Nonetheless, he was not in a consensus top 100 of mock drafts compiled by The Athletic on Feb. 21, and Pro Football Focus ranks him No. 99 despite having him as its highest-graded linebacker in the country last season.
He is the 17th-ranked linebacker at NFL.com, a site that projects him to be “an average backup or special teamer.”
What is the disconnect between his production and the projections?
Pace conceded some teams have expressed (usually indirectly) concerns about his height.
The 231-pounder measured in at 5-foot-10 at the Senior Bowl but then proved himself on the field, logging 10 tackles en route to being named Defensive MVP of the game.
“I feel like I really do separate myself,” he said. “If I had the height I feel like I could be a top five pick, but (NFL teams) don’t find that height as a failure so I’ll be up there one day.
“They said that height doesn’t matter so just keep working hard so that’s what I did during the season.”
Being overlooked is not new for Pace. He was just a two-star recruit in the fall of 2018 despite a standout career at powerhouse Colerain High School.
Pace signed with Miami University and flourished, including a MAC Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2021, before seeking a bigger showcase for his talents via the transfer portal.
He found that just down the road back in his hometown and said he is happy with his overall journey, including his time in Oxford.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “I’ve just got God by my side and my family to support me. That’s all I need.
“I definitely enjoyed my time at Miami. They were the first school that took a chance on me coming out so I took a chance on them and being up there with (head coach) Chuck Martin and my brothers up there, I’ve still got a relationship with them and it’s all nice still.
“Not saying Miami was a bad school or anything. I definitely went there and did my time and did what I had to do, but I felt like it was just time for me to go to a higher level and change it up a little bit. I definitely feel it’s helping me in my draft stock.”
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