The 2015 third-round pick by the Vikings tallied just 4.5 sacks in three seasons with the Tigers and was seen as a raw prospect who struggled to use his physical tools to his advantage.
Hunter quickly exceeded expectations, becoming the youngest player the reach 50 sacks in NFL history, reaching the milestone at the age of 25 in 2019. He asserted himself as a top-tier pass-rusher in the league in
However, Hunter’s reputation has taken a hit over the past two seasons. He missed the entire 2020 season due to a neck injury and saw his 2021 season end in Week 8 suffering a torn pectoral muscle injury.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler spoke with NFL executives, coaches and players to assemble his top-10 pass-rusher rankings ahead of the 2022 season, and while Hunter was merely an honorable mention due to his absence from the playing field, one AFC coach admitted he had to double back on what Hunter has done in his career.
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‘He Certainly Proved Me Wrong’
Surveying over 50 league executives, coaches and players, Fowler published his 2022 pass-rusher rankings on July 5, and while the names are of no surprise, the testimonies respondents offer do give insight into how the league internally feels about its premier pass-rushers.
Hunter is no exception.
Ranked an honorable mention outside the top 10, Hunter received some praise from an anonymous AFC coach, who was not convinced Hunter would become the Pro Bowl talent he is coming out of college.
Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings: Hunter is a top-10 rusher when healthy, but he has missed 26 games over the past two seasons. Still, he has 60.5 sacks in 85 career games. “A long-arm power guy. Greatest asset speed and length. Those things will always cause problems,” an AFC coach said. “I did not think he should be what he is. He certainly proved me wrong.”
Whether Hunter can remain healthy is a warranted concern, however, he proved he’s every bit the same pass-rusher after coming back from his neck injury in 2020 — which was a greater cause for concern than recovering from a torn pectoral injury. Hunter posted six sacks in seven games before suffering a torn pectoral injury.
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Amid Trade Speculation, Hunter Was New Regime’s 1st Call
With every Vikings player’s name in the trade rumor mill following the fallout of the Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman firings, Hunter seemed to be a candidate to move on from Minnesota with his position coach Andre Patterson unretained by the new regime.
However, newly hired general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had Hunter at the top of his list of phone calls to make upon entering the organization.
“Danielle was one of the first people I spoke with,” Adofo-Mensah said, per Vikings.com. “Really good player. Really good person. He’s a really good football player and to build a championship team you need a lot of really good football players. He’s someone we want to work with going forward.”
And after the Vikings finished in the bottom four units in pass-rush win rate over the past two seasons, Adofo-Mensah made restoring Minnesota’s pass-rush his biggest priority on defense by signing former Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith — whom Hunter had grown fond of and hoped he’d play with at some point in his career.
Smith, coming off back surgery in 2021, has the same cloud of injury concerns over his head that has followed Hunter the past two seasons, making Adofo-Mensah’s bet on Hunter and Smith’s health the highest-risk/reward move for the 2022 season.