99 Days Until Vikings Football: What Does Danielle Hunter Have in Store for 2020?
As we count down the days until the Vikings' opener against the Packers on September 13th, InsideTheVikings will be previewing every single player on the roster. The amount of days remaining corresponds with the jersey number of the player being examined on that day. Today is June 6th, and there are 99 days until kickoff for the 2020 regular season. That means we start this series by looking at arguably the Vikings' best player: superstar defensive end Danielle Hunter.
Countdown to Vikings-Packers on September 13th: 99 Days
Player Preview: Danielle Hunter (No. 99, Defensive End)
- College: LSU
- Drafted: 2015 third round (No. 88 overall)
- NFL experience: Five years (2020 will be his sixth season)
- Age: 25 (Turns 26 on October 29)
- Size: 6'5", 252 (he definitely weighs more than 252, if we're being honest)
- 2019 PFF Grade: 89.0
- Notable 2019 stats: 14.5 sacks (T-4th in NFL), 88 pressures (2nd), 3 forced fumbles
- Notable career stats: 54.5 sacks, 276 tackles, 6 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries
In his third season as a full-time starter, Danielle Hunter proved that he's a legitimate superstar in the NFL. He had broken out with 14.5 sacks in 2018, including eight sacks in the season's first seven games, all of which occurred before his 24th birthday. But NFL stars are defined by their consistency, so the question surrounding Hunter as he entered 2019 was whether or not the breakout was a fluke.
It wasn't. Hunter once again had eight sacks by the midway point of 2019, and posted six in his final four games to finish with exactly 14.5 for the second straight year (talk about consistency). If not for a Week 17 game in which the Vikings rested all of their starters, he almost certainly would've set a career high. What he did set was the NFL record for the most sacks ever by a player before turning 25.
There's really not a ton that needs to be said about Hunter at this point. He's everything an NFL coaching staff can ask for: dominant on the field, an incredibly hard worker during the week, and a great representative of the franchise off of the field.
Coming out of LSU in 2015, Hunter was seen as a raw, athletic project. He had just 4.5 sacks in two years as a starter for the Tigers. But Vikings defensive line coach (and recently-promoted co-defensive coordinator) Andre Patterson fell in love with his potential during the pre-draft process, and lobbied hard for the Vikings to select him. Luckily, Hunter was still there in the third round.
Five years later, Hunter has the skillset to complement his freakish athleticism. He is built like a superhero and moves like a running back, but he also has a complete understanding of how to utilize various moves to beat offensive tackles. He can win with his bend around the edge, and he can go through tackles with pure strength and powerful hands. His athleticism and motor also shows up in the running game.
Hunter's work ethic, combined with Patterson's tutelage and the example set by veterans like Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, has turned him into one of the best edge rushers in the entire league. Over the past two seasons, only the Cardinals' Chandler Jones has more sacks than Hunter. He might not have the name recognition of some of the other top pass rushers in the league, but it seems like the country is starting to realize how good he is.
Entering 2020, the question now becomes whether or not Hunter can find an extra gear. Only four Vikings players have gotten 15 or more sacks in a season since the stat became official in 1982: Jared Allen (22 in 2011), Chris Doleman (21 in 1989), Keith Millard (18 in 1989), and John Randle (15.5 in 1997). Hunter certainly has the talent to join them. However, for the first time in his career, he's now the veteran in the Vikings' defensive end group. With Griffen gone, Hunter is embracing a leadership role as he heads into his sixth season.
"I learned a lot from those guys," Hunter said. "I’ll definitely pass along what I’ve learned from them to the other guys in the group and the new guys that are coming in. I definitely see myself as turning into the leadership role of passing on the knowledge of what I’ve learned and teaching the younger guys...the roots and the fundamentals of becoming a good defensive end or defensive lineman."
Hunter's ability is far from a secret at this point. But even if he sees plenty of help from teams doubling him or chipping him with a tight end or running back, Hunter is good enough to put up numbers regardless. He's arguably the best player on the entire roster, and he should once again be a lot of fun to watch in 2020.
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