Entering the 2020 season, Smith (when he was with the Packers) and future running mate Danielle Hunter led the league in quarterback pressures over the previous two seasons. Hunter posted a league-high 154 pressures, and Smith was second with 152 pressures since 2018.
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The potential is there for Hunter and Smith to emerge as the NFL’s top pass-rushing duo. But that potential hinges on their health.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) lead NFL analyst Sam Monson was unwilling to take that bet, knocking Hunter and Smith in his edge rusher tier rankings for the 2022 season.
Hunter & Smith Outside PFF’s Top-10 Edge Rusher Rankings
With organized team activities (OTAs) underway, Monson published his 2022 edge rusher rankings on May 19. Hunter and Smith were placed in the third tier of edge rushers who have injury or other concerns capping their potential.
Hunter was atop the third tier at No. 11 in Monson’s rankings due to him missing the entire 2020 season after undergoing back surgery and playing just seven games in 2021 before suffering a torn pectoral muscle injury.
“We have seen just seven games and 334 snaps of Hunter since his dominant 2019 season, and while he is still just 27 years old, that injury history is concerning until he can return to the kind of play that saw him rack up 88 pressures in a single season,” Monson wrote, referring to Hunter’s 2019 season where his 14.5 sacks helped Minnesota rank fifth in sacks (48.0) that season.
That season was also a breakthrough year for Smith, who in his first season in Green Ba after four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens led the NFL with 93 pressures and tallied 13.5 sacks to earn his first Pro Bowl nod. Smith was ranked No. 14 by Monson.
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Here’s the list of players in the top three tiers of Monson’s rankings.
Tier 1: DPOY Candidates
1. T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
3. Khalil Mack, Los Angeles Chargers
4. Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
5. Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
6. Maxx Crosby, Las Vegas Raiders
7. Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
Smith, Hunter Building Bond Over Pro Bowl Bridge
Smith and Hunter joining forces in 2022 didn’t come as too much of a surprise to the duo.
Hunter recalled his first time meeting Smith, who also came out of the 2015 draft class, at the 2019 Pro Bowl, where the idea of playing together first germinated.
“It was fun. I remember we were out there. We kind of talked a lot,” Hunter said, per Vikings.com. “I remember we were going out onto the field together, he had a pick. Right after he said that, he went out there and had a pick at outside linebacker. I thought that was pretty cool.
“He came here, I was excited about it,” Hunter added, Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press reported. “He texted me saying he was coming here, and we started developing a bond.”