The Hunter Games: This Viking’s Rise to the Top

Brandon Salamat

The Minnesota Vikings got themselves a franchise defensive end for years with their 88th selection in the 2015 NFL Draft – a freakish athlete standing 6’5 weighing about 250 pounds with measurables out of this world. His name? Danielle Hunter.

“Freak of an Athlete”

When you see his comparisons; Hunter has already had a better career than most, if not all of them and he’s just getting started. The one comparison that I can see though is Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans. Although Clowney’s career early on hasn’t met expectations (yet), both he and Hunter are absolute athletic freaks about to hit their stride.

[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]

Let’s fast forward to 2016, where Hunter posted a breakout season even though he played 58% of the snaps. He recorded 56 tackles and 12.5 sacks. He had a total of 55 QB pressures and 29 of them came on third down, where 34.5% resulted in either hits or sacks. Hunter had a sack conversion rate of 23.6% (meaning how many sacks he’s converting with his pressures) and for good measure; JJ Watt’s highest conversion rate was 21.1%. It is a small sample size because Watt is a full-time player whereas Hunter has been a situational pass rusher.

I also looked at some historical comps for Hunter’s breakout season at age 22. Within the last 20 years, there has been only one player with the same type of season Hunter had in 2016 (55 tackles 12.5 sacks) and that is none other than one of the best defensive ends in history, Simeon Rice of the Arizona Cardinals. Rice accomplished this feat of at least 50 tackles and 12.5 sacks in his rookie season in 1996. There is some reason of concern if there’s a down year for Hunter – Rice only posted five sacks in the following year. However, I’m not one to believe Hunter will head down this road. The glass is half full and the way athletes train today you’d just have to believe in the hunger that Hunter possesses.

One more fun fact – there have been three other players who have recorded more than 12.5 sacks in their age 22 season, but Hunter is the only one to not have been drafted in the first round.

Let’s look ahead to the 2017 season and dynasty outlook for those who own him in IDP leagues. In 2016, he posted a combined 20 tackles and 3.5 sacks against his division rivals. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but one positive is he’s owned the Green Bay Packers so far with 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks in two games. He faces a good SOS (Strength of Schedule) against defensive ends in 2017, including ten favorable games. He’ll face teams like the Browns (gave up 37.5 sacks to DEs last season), Rams (26.5), Falcons (24.0) and also faces the Ravens (23rd ranked offensive line), Saints (16th), Bengals (31st) and Lions (24th).

There’s a lot of promise there and a ton of potential for Hunter to have another breakout season. Of course there are some cons, with him entering the starting lineup for the first time and seeing an increase in snaps – will he tire out as the game goes on? Will he put the same pressure in the fourth quarter as he did in the first quarter? I’m not expecting him to jump from 600 snaps to 1,000, but if he hits that 800-850 snap count then I see why he can’t top 12.5 sacks from 2016. The arrow is pointing up, Hunter is determined and a core member of the rising Vikings defense.

I don’t need to tell you that Hunter has an extraordinary combination of size, power and speed or that he’s becoming one of the premier pass-rushers in the league. What I should tell you is that he’ll be 23 when the season starts, he has added five pounds of muscle this off-season and what helps set him apart is he’s coachable at a young age. He’s committed to find ways to improve his game and ready to be part of the upper echelon of defensive ends in the NFL; the right tackles are already having nightmares having to try and block him.

As fellow teammate Linval Joseph said “it can be scary that Hunter hasn’t even reached grown man strength yet.”

Dynasty Outlook

This is why Danielle Hunter will become your top defensive end in IDP – it’s not because he’ll flirt with 15-18 sacks, but because he also contributes in the run game and has averaged 44 tackles in his first two years. As a part-time player, that’s good. He is priced near his ceiling already in dynasty so if you plan on trading for him, don’t be surprised by what you’d have to part with. But he may be worth it.

If you’re in a startup draft and your league starts at least two defensive ends, I would make it a top priority to lock down at least one stud; Hunter. When he out-performs his 2016 season, we’re going to look back at it as his floor because we’re about to witness his ceiling and it’s going to be pretty. So building a team with Hunter as your DE1 is one of the better ways to do it, and you’d still have a good chance at locking down a LB1 to pair him up with. The young, athletic and freakish edge rushers are on the rise and I wouldn’t miss the show. Ladies and Gentlemen; it’s time to be the Hunter, not the hunted.


brandon salamat
Latest posts by Brandon Salamat (see all)