Over the course of this offseason, one of the biggest sources of excitement for fans of the Minnesota Vikings has been projecting the ascent of defensive end Danielle Hunter. Hunter, a third-round pick of the Vikings in the 2015 NFL Draft, won’t even turn 23 years of age until late October, but has given fans of the purple and gold reason to get very excited about his potential.
Hunter has been a part-time player, backing up longtime incumbent Brian Robison at the left defensive end spot. Despite playing in less than half of the team’s defensive snaps in 2016, Hunter managed to lead the team in sacks with 12.5. Coupled with the six sacks he collected as a rookie, his 18.5 sacks by the age of 22 puts him in some pretty elite company.
In the history of the National Football League, only three players have collected more quarterback sacks through age 22 than Danielle Hunter has. Those players are Shawne Merriman (27 sacks), Terrell Suggs (22.5), and Jason Pierre-Paul (21). However, when you look at those players, you’ll notice that Merriman had started 22 games over that stretch, while Suggs started 17 and Pierre-Paul had started 12.
Danielle Hunter has exactly one National Football League start thus far, the team’s 2015 contest against the Kansas City Chiefs at TCF Bank Stadium. . .and he’s matching the production of some of the elite pass rushers in recent NFL history despite not having nearly as much opportunity for productivity as they had in their first couple of seasons.
Of course, that’s going to change this season, as even Robison has admitted that it’s time for him to cede some of his snaps to Hunter going forward. It’s going to be very interesting to see what Hunter can do with a full season of snaps at the defensive end spot.
Are we getting way too excited over the prospects of what Danielle Hunter is capable of in 2017? Given his potential and what he’s shown in a part-time role over his first two seasons, I’m not sure if it’s possible to get too excited over him. He’s done more than enough to justify the sort of hype he’s generating this offseason thus far, and he’s going to be a huge part of the Minnesota Vikings’ defense in the immediate future.