If you’re discussing the most versatile safeties in this year’s NFL Draft, Northwestern’s JR Pace deserves to be in the conversation.
Pace, a three-year starter at Northwestern, finished his college career with 169 total tackles, 15 passes defended and eight interceptions. He was a key reason why the Wildcats had one of the best secondaries in the entire country this past fall.
There are plenty of boxes that Pace checks off when it comes to grading a prospect. Not only has he shown he can be a single-high safety, we’ve seen him take reps in the slot and line up in the box.
NFL scouts watched Pace put his versatility to the test at his pro day earlier, albeit he had to battle through a foot injury due to unforeseen circumstances.
We sat down with JR Pace this week to discuss his career at Northwestern, his wild pro day experience, what he’ll bring to an NFL team this fall and much more.
The Spun: How has this draft process been for you?
JR Pace: The draft process has been exciting and surreal. More specifically, I just had my pro day and had the chance to talk to scouts. I’m just waiting for that moment to come.
The Spun: What was your pro day like?
JP: Mine was definitely different than most because a week prior to my pro day a boy where I was training dropped a bar on my foot. So that definitely shook things up. The whole week leading up to the pro day, I couldn’t run. I didn’t run for the first time until the day before. Besides my 40-yard dash time, I think I did very well. Some teams told me I did well during the position drills, so that was cool.
Lot of great performances today, but so impressed by @jrpace9. Someone dropped a weight on his foot last week and put him in a walking boot, and he still showed out! #ProCats pic.twitter.com/dcuJVv9vJp
— Pat Fitzgerald (@coachfitz51) March 9, 2021
The Spun: Pat Fitzgerald gave you a shoutout for the way you performed at your pro day. What was it like playing for him?
JP: Coach Fitz is a great guy and a great coach. I loved playing for him. He helped us any way he could.
The Spun: What’s your favorite moment from your time at Northwestern?
JP: Personally, I’d say when I won the Defensive MVP at the Holiday Bowl during my sophomore year when we beat Utah. It was one of my better games and it was a comeback win, so that’s probably my favorite moment.
The Spun: What’s your favorite rivalry game in the Big Ten?
JP: That’s hard because I got a few of them. I loved playing against Iowa and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I never got a win against them, but I love playing against Ohio State – two Big Ten championship games and once at home. I’d probably say Iowa though.
The Spun: You’re a versatile safety for sure. What role do you see yourself playing in the NFL?
JP: I think being a free-range safety. Whether that’s putting me in the post or in the box, I think I move best when I can move freely because I’m very instinctual. I’m at my best when I’m able to react and play football.
The Spun: You played alongside a lot of talented players at Northwestern. What were those practice sessions like?
JP: Practices were fun and intense. We always practiced hard and looked forward to going to practice because of the energy that was there.
No QB earned a 90+ passer rating vs Northwestern this season pic.twitter.com/4py3IgktnH
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 2, 2021
The Spun: What will you miss most about Northwestern?
JP: Just the brotherhood and camaraderie in the locker room, especially because it’s not the same in the NFL. I think our locker room was unmatched in collegiate football.
The Spun: Who do you like to watch on film?
JP: I love Tyrann Mathieu. He’s so instinctual and has a great feel for the game of football. Some other guys I like to study are Justin Simmons, John Johnson, Jessie Bates. Those are guys who I think share similar playing styles with me.
JR Pace was Mr. Do-It-All for Northwestern last year. pic.twitter.com/4wjn1GhBWy
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) August 5, 2019
The Spun: What is something you’re trying to improve right now? And on the flip side, what’s your best quality on the field?
JP: I want to continue getting better covering slots in man-to-man coverage. I want to be as versatile as possible for my future coach. As for your other question, my instincts are my best quality. You can move me around freely, put me in the box, put me in the post – I can do all that.
The Spun: Is there someone in the NFL you’re looking forward to matching up with?
JR: Everybody has to see me.
The Spun: What is an NFL team getting in JR Pace?
JP: I think you’re going to get the hardest worker off the field, and I’m going to play the hardest off the field. You’re going to get a guy who is going to be dedicated and determined from the first day. I’m going to bust my ass and I’m going to go get it.
dreams to reality.. pic.twitter.com/LW4QZyAc0l
— deuce (@jrpace9) March 12, 2021
Pace is currently projected to be a Day 3 selection in the upcoming draft.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.