When the Vikings drafted Danielle Hunter in the third round in 2015, the most common word to describe him was “raw”. He was considered an athletic freak (he ran a 4.57 40 at the combine, the fastest among defensive linemen in the 2015 class) who would take a year or two to learn how to rush the passer and become a productive player. The Vikings had already proven they can develop pass rushers, as Everson Griffen rose from a fourth-round pick into a Pro Bowler. Some thought Hunter could follow a similar path.
It didn’t take much time for Hunter to become a factor for the Vikings, as he had six sacks in his rookie year. To compare, Griffen had four sacks in his first two seasons.
Hunter has continued to progress steadily over the past three seasons, and he’s now budding into one of the best defensive players in the league. After recording 3.5 sacks against the Lions on Sunday, a Hunter now has a league-leading 11.5 sacks through nine games. While a lot of people were focused on Adam Thielen’s historic streak of 100-yard receiving games to start the season, they may have missed Hunter record a sack in seven straight games to start the season. His streak was broken against the Saints, but he more than made up for it with a dominating performance against the Lions. Ironically, this was also the game where Thielen’s streak was snapped.
The 11.5 sacks are 1.5 ahead of the next-closest player, Aaron Donald, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, and the guy who is the likely leader for the award again this season. Sunday may have shifted that, as Hunter added a fumble recovery for a touchdown to solidify his monster game.
The numbers Hunter has put up this season are ridiculous, and they continue to bolster what has been an amazing career for Hunter, who turned 24 in October. Hunter has 37 career sacks in just over 3.5 seasons. That’s already more than Hall of Famer John Randle, and he’s currently tied with Vikings legend Jim Marshall. He’s two sacks behind Alan Page, who’s probably the best player who has ever played for the Vikings. He was the first player to ever win the DPOY award, when it was introduced in 1971; Page won the MVP that year as well, the first defensive player to ever win the award.
The only other player in Vikings history to win the DPOY was Keith Millard, who won it in 1989 when he recorded 18 sacks and had a 31-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown (one yard less than Hunter’s touchdown on Sunday). Millard had 53 sacks as a Viking, which is a number Hunter could possibly reach by next season as a 25-year-old. Of course, Hunter benefits from playing in a passing-dominant league, but this is still insane to think about.
The historic numbers were something that caught my eye this weekend, but my favorite thing about Hunter is how his teammates describe him. There were a few quotes from players after the game describing how much of a freak Hunter is, and Stephen Weatherly had by far the best quote to show his appreciation to his fellow pass rusher.
Stephen Weatherly on Danielle Hunter: "That guy's parents are great for getting together and making a guy like that."
— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingStrib) November 4, 2018
All NFL players are extremely athletic. They are a different species from average people like myself. Hunter is such a freak that he makes NFL players look like normal human beings. I mean, look at him.
It’s been so much fun to watch him throughout his career, and if he continues to produce for the rest of the season, he’ll bring home some prestigious hardware at the end of the year.
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