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Danielle Hunter Listed As “Breakout Prospect” By Football Outsiders

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, the great E$PN Paywall gives us fodder for discussion.

The folks from Football Outsiders have put together their list of the top 25 potential “Breakout Prospects” for the 2016 season. What definition are they using for that? Here are their criteria:

  • Drafted in the third round or later, or signed as an undrafted free agent
  • Entered the NFL between 2013 and 2015
  • Fewer than 500 career offensive or defensive snaps
  • Have not signed a contract extension (players who have bounced around the league looking for the right spot, however, still qualify for the list)
  • Age 26 or younger in 2016

As you could probably gather from the title of the article, the Football Outsiders gang thinks pretty favorably about Minnesota Vikings’ defensive end Danielle Hunter. How highly? They have him as the #2 overall “Breakout Prospect” based on this criteria, behind only Arizona Cardinals’ running back David Johnson (who has, probably, already broken out, but I’m not going to quibble).

Here’s what they had to say about the second-year defensive end:

Hunter came out of LSU incredibly raw. He scored fairly low in our SackSEER forecast (which we use to project college edge rushers into the NFL) not because of his athleticism, but because of his lack of on-field production. Hunter managed just 4.5 sacks in three seasons at LSU. That dropped him to the third round, where the Vikings decided that a 252-pounder who ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at the combine might, in fact, be someone to groom. Hunter notched six sacks and a handful of hurries as a rookie, and he's coming for Brian Robison's job sooner rather than later.

Hunter is another example of an important bit of knowledge that I’ve gained over the past 2 1/2 years. . .the fact that Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer are a hell of a lot smarter at this football thing than I am. In his final year at LSU, Hunter managed only 1.5 quarterback sacks, and people cited that a lot when they wondered why the Vikings were taking him in the third round. The Vikings’ brass clearly saw something in him, and it’s really sort of looking like they’re correct.

We may see another example of this soon with a 2016 draft choice in cornerback Mackensie Alexander. Though he wouldn’t make this list, since he wasn’t drafted in the third round or later, a lot of pundits were unimpressed with his lack of interceptions at Clemson, citing that he didn’t have an interception in his final 23 college games. Of course, he wasn’t allowing a whole lot of catches, either, but interceptions are the glamour stat, so they’ll get noticed. Alexander was generally projected as a late first-round selection, but the Vikings getting him in the second was too good a value to pass up. Zimmer likes his cornerbacks to play a certain way, and if he thinks that Alexander is a fit, I’m certainly not going to question it.

I don’t know if Hunter is going to be the starter (at least in name) this season with Robison still around, but I certainly expect that he’d take that spot by the 2017 season, and should be a big part of this Vikings’ defense for a long time to come.