Danielle Hunter Staying at Left Defensive End With Everson Griffen Gone

Will Ragatz

In the nearly five months since Everson Griffen announced he wouldn't be returning to the Vikings, there has been some speculation about where the Vikings will deploy superstar defensive end Danielle Hunter in 2020. 

Hunter has spent the first five seasons of his career playing left defensive end, meaning he lines up across from right tackles. Griffen has always manned the right side, taking on left tackles as he rushes the quarterback's blind side. There's a perception that a team's best pass rusher lines up at right defensive end, which has fueled the idea of Hunter sliding across the formation to fill Griffen's vacated spot.

On Friday, Vikings co-defensive coordinator and d-line coach Andre Patterson made it clear that Hunter will be staying right where he's always been.

“He’s still a left defensive end for me," Patterson said. "Why would you move somebody that’s doing something great? I don’t understand that. He’s the fastest to 50 sacks in NFL history. You guys would be all over me if I moved him to the right and all of a sudden he wasn’t very good. I’m smarter than that."

Patterson has a point: why mess with a good thing?  Hunter has developed into one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL while playing LDE, so moving him away from that spot doesn't make a lot of sense. He has virtually perfect the art of rushing from that side, and moving to the other side requires an entirely different set of footwork and hand placements.

Could Hunter succeed at RDE? Of course. But the potential upside isn't enough to make it worth the risk of a drop-off in production. Most analysts tend to believe that there isn't a notable difference between sides – or the quality of right tackles versus left tackles – and there are plenty of teams who put their best pass rusher on the left side of the defensive line. 

Patterson didn't rule out moving Hunter around the formation at times. In last year's playoff victory over the Saints, the Vikings had great success with putting Hunter and Griffen at defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. But he'll spend the vast majority of his snaps at LDE.

"We’re going to keep him where he feels comfortable," Patterson said. "Obviously there are going to be games where we move him around a little bit just like we did with him and Everson in the New Orleans game. But I don’t want to take a guy from where he’s comfortable and making a name for himself to be one of the best in the business at what he does. To me, that’s not very smart as a coach. I may not be very bright, but I’m smarter than that."

As for the right side, look for Ifeadi Odenigbo to step up and fill the void left by Griffen. The Northwestern product broke out with seven sacks in a reserve role last year, and will likely get his chance to be a full-time starter in 2020.

“I think No. 1 is to just keep improving," Patterson said about what Odenigbo needs to do going forward. "Just keep getting better. That’s how he made the jump that he made last year. What he cannot do is put pressure on himself that, ‘okay, I’ve got a chance to be a starting player, so now I’m going to change my routine and change everything.’ That’s the worst thing that he can do. All he’s got to do is keep his focus on what he’s done to get himself to this level that he’s at right now and just keep improving and getting better and he’ll be just fine.”

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