Danielle Hunter has been awfully quiet since becoming the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 sacks.
Reaching that milestone at the age of 25 during the 2019 season, Hunter has had a series of mishaps — missing the entire 2020 season with a neck injury and playing only seven games before a torn pectoral muscle injury shut down his 2021 season. Hunter has fallen out of many of the conversations surrounding the league’s best pass-rushers due to his absence.
This season, Hunter is adjusting to playing outside linebacker amid the Minnesota Vikings defense’s transition to a 3-4 base scheme.
The differences in what’s asked of Hunter are minuscule to an unobserved eye, but they matter, and it’s shown through four games.
Hunter has posted just one sack and seven hurries. He had 5 sacks and 16 hurries through four games playing in a familiar scheme last season.
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell addressed Hunter’s slow start, saying it’s “very, very normal” for a player to need some time to adjust.
Ed Donatell Says Vikings’ Danielle Hunter’s Slow Start is ‘Very, Very Normal’
In an October 6 press conference ahead of the Vikings’ Week 5 matchup with the Chicago Bears, Donatell urged seemed unworried by Hunter’s lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks through the first month of the season.
“Every guy that’s ever made that transition, the first month looks about like that,” Donatell, who has over 40 years of coaching experience, including 31 years in the NFL, said. “That’s pretty normal. There’s a getting used to this role. Very, very normal. But we’re very glad to have him, OK? Let’s make that clear.”
Hunter, who used to have his hand in the ground at the line of scrimmage, often lines up standing up — not a significant difference, but one nonetheless. Donatell is trying to get Hunter to win more on the outside in space versus using leverage and strength and beginning the point of attack inside or even with opposing tackles.
“It’s not a total adjustment,” Donatell said. “There are some things that are likeness and sameness to him, so it’s not a total (adjustment). It’s really, when we’re in our odd spacing against base people, where he’s standing up. You’ll see him maybe go down sometimes. But the biggest thing, he’s not packed into that front, inside a tight end and a tackle. He doesn’t have to do that. He’d probably be the first guy to say he likes this role better from the edge. But again, it’s so early. You’re not gonna find a harder worker, a higher character guy, a guy that cares more about the team.”
Danielle Hunter Should Thrive With Toughest Tests Behind
Hunter’s lack of production could very well be more his matchups and not the small changes of his role in the defense.
Hunter faced two top-10 tackles graded by Pro Football Focus to start the season. While a Pro Bowl talent like Hunter should fare better even against tough competition, selling out to stop Hunter has been a priority by opposing offensive fronts, which has opened opportunities for other pass-rushers.
Next up for Hunter is Bears’ right tackle Larry Borom, who allowed seven pressures, two sacks, a hit and four hurries, per PFF, in a Week 17 against backup edge rushers.
Hunter should feast the rest of the season, with a breakout performance against Borom slated for Sunday.
Here’s the remainder of right guard Hunter will face this season along with their PFF pass-blocking grades, per Purple Insider’s Matthew Coller:
- Week 6 Miami: Greg Little – 61st by PFF (dead last)
- Week 8 Arizona: Kelvin Beachum – 19th by PFF
- Week 9 Washington: Sam Cosmi – 32nd by PFF
- Week 10 Buffalo: Spencer Brown – 49th by PFF
- Week 11 Dallas: Terence Steele – 11th by PFF
- Week 12 New England: Isaiah Wynn – 36th by PFF
- Week 13 NY Jets: Max Mitchell – 55th by PFF
- Week 14 Detroit: Penei Sewell – 23rd by PFF
- Week 15 Indianapolis: Braden Smith – 27th by PFF
- Week 16 NY Giants: Evan Neal – 56th by PFF
- Week 17 Green Bay: Elgton Jenkins – 53rd by PFF
- Week 18 Chicago: Larry Borom – 25th by PFF