4-Time All-Pro Sounds off on Vikings’ Danielle Hunter

Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Danielle Hunter #99 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates in the second half against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Detroit Lions 19-17. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Minnesota Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter’s pass-rush style could be likened to jazz.

Hunter’s moves have been a bit of a trade secret as the former third-round pick has blossomed into one of the league’s premier pass-rushers — and a former Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman spoke out on just how hard it is to dissect what Hunter will do2 next.

 Danielle Hunter ‘Rushes Like No One Else,’ Mitchell Schwartz Says

Former Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has seen his fair share of elite edge rushers. Playing nine seasons in the NFL, Schwartz started 134 games straight from 2012 to 2019. He earned three second-team All-Pro nods and first-team honors in 2018. Schwartz also won a Super Bowl with the Chiefs in 2019, when he allowed just one pressure on 140 pass-blocking snaps in the postseason.

Schwartz studied plenty to reach that height of success in his career. Yet, studying Hunter’s tape remains one of the most perplexing assignments in his career.

“Preparing for Danielle Hunter was one of the weirder film watching experiences I’ve had,” Schwartz tweeted. “He rushes like no one else and it’s hard trying to figure out exactly what he’s doing, let alone what his plan is. Fun guy to watch when he’s playing well.”

Even Vikings Pro Bowl right tackle Brian O’Neill, who sees Hunter every day, has been caught off guard by the enigmatic edge rusher — who admitted sometimes he doesn’t know how he pieces together a rush.

During 2021 training camp, Mike Zimmer shared an anecdote from practice where O’Neill asked Hunter, “Danielle what was that move?”

Hunter replied, “I don’t know. It just happened.”

“He’s just slithery and long arms and athletic. It’s just different,” Zimmer added, per ESPN’s Courtney Cronin.

Danielle Hunter’s Midseason Breakout Has Vaulted Vikings Pass Rush

While the duo of Za’Darius Smith and Hunter was amped up all offseason, Hunter hadn’t held up his end of the bargain through the first five weeks of the season. The 28-year-old had averaged just 2.6 pressures per game and had just two sacks to show for it.

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said Hunter’s slow start was normal for a 4-3 defensive end who was transitioning to a 3-4 outside linebacker role — and while Hunter had experience playing standing up — Donatell’s words have proved right the past three weeks.

Hunter has averaged 6.7 sacks the past three games and is coming off his first multi-sack game last week against the Washington Commanders.

His breakout has coincided with Smith’s reemergence in the league as well. Both pass-rushers missed the majority of the 2021 season due to injury — making the Vikings’ bet on their heath a high-risk, high-reward gamble.

It’s paid dividends.

Smith earned NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for October. Smith is second in the league with 8.5 sacks and has a league-high 46 pressures, per Pro Football Focus.

After a slow start, Hunter isn’t far behind, tied for 12th in pressures with 33 on the season — 20 of which have come in the past three games.

Hunter finding his form has vaulted Smith and him to the top of the league’s pass-rushing duos list. Their 79 pressures leads the league entering Week 10.

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