Vikings Place Danielle Hunter on IR, Meaning He'll Miss at Least Three Games
The Vikings have placed superstar defensive end Danielle Hunter on injured reserve, meaning he'll miss at least the first three games of the season. This comes just days after Mike Zimmer said he was expecting Hunter to play against the Packers in Week 1.
Hunter has been out for nearly a month with an undisclosed injury that Zimmer has only described as a "little tweak." He last practiced on August 14th, the Vikings' first full-team session of training camp.
According to ESPN's Courtney Cronin, "the 'tweak' is related to a neck injury he sustained." Given the dangerous nature of neck injuries, it makes sense for the Vikings to be cautious in bringing him back to full speed.
With Hunter missing practice again on Wednesday and linebacker Eric Kendricks giving a telling quote about having to replace him, it appeared highly unlikely that he would be able to play on Sunday.
Now, it's clear that this injury is more serious than the Vikings have been letting on. Hunter will miss Week 1 against the Packers, Week 2 at the Colts, and Week 3 against the Titans. He'll first be eligible to return from IR for a Week 4 game in Houston on October 4th.
Losing Hunter for at least three games is a major blow for a Vikings team that plans to contend for an NFC North title. He is one of the more physically dominant edge rushers in the league, having recorded 29 sacks over the past two seasons. Just 25 years old, Hunter was the quickest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks and was set to step into more of a leadership role this season with longtime teammate Everson Griffen departing.
However, the Vikings have the depth at defensive end to survive without Hunter for as long as they have to. They recently traded for former Jaguars star Yannick Ngakoue, who has 37.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles over the past four years. They also have Ifeadi Odenigbo, who had seven sacks in a rotational role last year and was in line to start opposite Hunter prior to the Ngakoue trade. Losing Hunter means veterans Jalyn Holmes and Eddie Yarbrough could see some rotational snaps on the edge.
"Danielle, he brings a whole other type of game in and it’s going to be hard to replace a guy like that," Kendricks said. "But we have guys who are hungry and want to step up too."
This is a tough loss, considering Hunter is arguably the best player on the Vikings' roster. But given their depth, it's not one that has to derail the season. Hunter will continue to rehab his injury in the hopes of returning as soon as Week 4.
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