INDIANAPOLIS — The Patriots must add speed and playmaking ability to their linebacking corps this offseason. They tried to address the need last year, and it didn’t work out.
Ideally, New England would find a high-end prospect in the early rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft. But what if Bill Belichick and company kick the can to the middle rounds?
One potential option: Cincinnati linebacker Ivan Pace Jr, who was described as “one of the most athletic inside linebackers in the nation” in a DraftDive scouting profile.
He possesses the kind of speed and explosiveness the Patriots need at the position. However, at 6 feet and 239 pounds, Pace is a bit undersized and has work to do in pass coverage, though he’s shown promise. To that end, Pace looks similar to Mack Wilson, who brought upside to the Patriots in 2022 but failed to deliver and could leave in free agency.
But Wilson once was an intriguing NFL draft prospect, and Pace is no different. He also possesses the kind of versatility that New England prioritizes with its linebackers.
“My strength as a player? I’m a real versatile player,” Pace said Wednesday at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. “I can play all over the field. I can be a great blitzer, a coverage dropper. I can play on the line, play on the edge, mostly anywhere on the field.”
Pace said he planned to meet with the Patriots sometime during the combine. He also expressed excitement at the idea of playing for Belichick.
“Bill Belichick is a big guy, man,” said Pace, seemingly remarking on Belichick’s status in the NFL. “He definitely would get me right up there with the Patriots. So, I feel like it’d be a good feeling.”
Pace currently is projected to go somewhere between the fourth and fifth rounds. Of course, his status could skyrocket or plummet depending on how he performs in drills at the combine.
But he’s a player who has the kind of skill set the Patriots have lacked at linebacker in recent years. He could make a lot of sense for New England as a late-Day 2 or early Day 3 prospect.
In 13 games for the Bearcats this season, Pace racked up 136 tackles (20.5 for loss) and nine sacks.