The Minnesota Vikings have an impressive lineage of pass rushers in their team history. It goes back to the famed Purple People Eaters and to more modern guys like Everson Griffen. With Griffen, Linval Joseph, and others, the Vikings pass rush looks stronger than ever. One of the big reasons it does is because of their 24 year-old standout Danielle Hunter.
With the upcoming 2019 campaign, the expectations will only rise for the young star. Hunter will be looking to take a leap into the echelon of pass rushers and cement himself among the best in the league. And with the offense having some struggles under Kirk Cousins, a stronger defensive effort will only boost the team. With some of his stats leveling off, the former LSU Tiger and native Jamaican has something to prove in 2019. And although the competition at the 3-technique is intriguing, all eyes will be on Hunter.
His numbers are absolutely elite
Alluding to the fact that there could be concern with his numbers tapering off, a deeper dive may tell a different story.
Hunter has 135 pressures in the past two seasons combined according to Pro Football Focus. That number is seventh in the NFL during that time span. Those numbers were achieved as a youthful 23 and 24 year-old.
Essentially, Hunter is nearly a star at an age where some rookies come into the NFL. For example, he is six months younger than Patriots rookie pass rusher Chase Winovich.
His overall tackles went up from 34 to 47 in 2018 as well. That indicates an improvement in run defense and field vision in general as a pass rusher with his hand in the dirt. In other words, Hunter has continued to improve as a run defender each season. His pressures dropped by one in 2018, but his pass rushing snaps also fell by 60 snaps. He was on pace to improve upon those numbers as well.
Lastly, Hunter won on 20.6% of his pass rushing snaps according to Pro Football Focus. That is an elite level to be winning pass rushing snaps at, especially when you are only 24 and playing in the NFL.
He talks about improving
Hunter was the definition of a diamond in the rough as he only had 4.5 sacks in his time at LSU. He has repeatedly spoken of “giving it his all” while he is on the field for the Vikings. That was never anything new.
Hunter’s relentless work ethic shows on the field. It is evident in the improvement of his technique on film. His stats show a gradual progression over his young career as well. Hunter seems to not have hit his ceiling and the Vikings got a steal of a deal by only paying him $72 million over five years.
Hunter’s mentality of giving back to those who believe in him and proving the doubters wrong is paying dividends. It continues since coming into the league as a 20 year-old with little to no production at the collegiate level.
Hunter has all the tools to keep getting better
Explosiveness. Power. Quickness. Hand usage. You name it, Hunter has it.
This is one of the most complete players, aided by youth, and the desire to work harder to ascend even further than where he is right now. Hunter is reaping the rewards of his hard work and continues to improve. The natural tools he has say that there is zero reason to believe anything will change soon.
Hunter’s 4.57 40 was on display earlier this season as he chased down Todd Gurley from behind. His 36 1/2″ vertical shows absurd explosiveness from an athlete his size. And he pumped out 26 reps on the bench, even showing his natural strength that it takes to execute gap discipline and a bull rush.
Hunter is a natural phenomenon athletically, but his blend of athleticism and technique mean that not only should he be able to take the leap to the next level, but that he can play in the league even once that athleticism has diminished past its current elite level.
Hunter could be among the league’s best next season
The resume Hunter has put out in his first four seasons is incredible. Hunter not only has 40 sacks since coming into the league, but he also has the eighth most tackles for loss in the NFL in that timespan. He is on a staggering pace at such a young age.
With Hunter yet to turn 25 years-old, he is being mentioned with some of the elite players in the league. Soon, guys like J.J. Watt, Joey Bosa, and Von Miller, might be the ones mentioned in the same sentence as Hunter.
The NFL should be put on notice. There is a new pass rushing star coming out of the NFC North, and his name is Danielle Hunter.