As pass-rushers like Myles Garrett and Joey Bosa signed massive contract extensions this offseason, it must have felt good watching that from afar knowing you might have one of the best young, bargain pass-rushers in the league already locked up.
That’s the situation the Minnesota Vikings are in with defensive end Danielle Hunter.
Hunter signed a five-year, $72 million contract prior to the 2018 season after just one full year as a starter (three seasons in the league). The reason the Vikings were confident enough to do that was because the previous season, starting in zero games, Hunter racked up 12.5 sacks.
Since Hunter signed his extension, what has he done? I’m glad you asked.
Over the course of the last two seasons, in which Hunter has played and started in all 32 games, he has recorded 29 sacks, with an equal 14.5 total in each of the past two seasons. That’s the third most of any player during that time. Among the top-50 sack players between 2018 and 2019, Hunter is first in tackles, second in pressures, second in tackles for loss, third in quarterback hits, and fifth in pressure rate. Now at age 25, Hunter became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks.
The Vikings jumped on Hunter’s extension early. Now, he’s not slated to hit free agency until 2024, and he’s already one of the top bargain players in the NFL at $14.4 million per season, as now just the eighth-highest paid defensive end in the league and just the 22nd-highest defensive lineman in the league (rankings that will only go down over time).
The picture for Hunter moving forward is still bright and clear. Long-time sack master Everson Griffen is no longer in Minnesota. Griffen, who is considered one of the best pass-rushers in Vikings history, racked up 74.5 sacks in his 10 seasons there. That was good enough for fourth most. In just five seasons (two as a non-starter), Hunter is already two-thirds of the way there at 54.5.
So what can Hunter bring to the table without Griffen?
Hunter is 6-foot-5 with 34.5-inch arms, which are both in the 70th percentile for the position. But, at times, they sure feel like they’re a mile long and in the 90th percentile.
Hunter’s length and reach is a problem, even for the most gifted offensive tackles. It’s often difficult for people with long arms to generate a ton of strength when their arms are fully extended. This is why it’s easier for people with shorter arms to bench more at the NFL Scouting Combine. Not only is the distance they have to move the weight shorter, but they can also more easily tap into the rest of their body (back, core, etc.) for strength outside of just their chest, shoulders and arms. As a trench play, you want to create that separation when you engage, but it doesn’t always come with the most power.
Hunter somehow defies the laws of biology, as he generates a ton of strength with his arms fully extended. He has the ability to forklift offensive tackles up and back to get them on skates as he powers them into the back of the pocket, as shown above.
If you put a tight end against Hunter (who isn’t named George Kittle), you will lose the rep. That’s it; that’s the whole analysis.
There were so many plays like the one above where Hunter just manhandles tight ends. As you can see in the clip above, the right tackle was in the area to help, but really couldn’t get a hand on Hunter. Once Hunter saw that the play was not a run play and was instead play-action, he was able to rip off the tight end in front of him for the strip-sack.
Do not leave this man one-on-one with your tight end. Your quarterback will regret it.
After showing the baseline of dominance from Hunter, I wanted to get into why I have confidence in him being successful, even without Griffen there to take attention off him.
With Griffen’s departure, Hunter will be the focal point of the opposing offensive lines each week. That means he’ll get the majority of slide protections, chip blocks, and double teams. But the play above is one of many examples where Hunter not only holds his own against extra attention, but bests it for plays in the backfield.
Hunter’s motor never stops, and for a player with his athletic ability and ideal measurables to have a motor that runs that hot is something that is truly rare. Part of what makes Hunter such a force is that he never gives up on the play.
Hunter’s strip-sack against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15 of 2019 was the perfect example. In the play above, Hunter shrugged off the running back’s chip block like it was nothing, and then still had enough power to bull-rush the right tackle to the ground before he popped the ball out of quarterback Philip Rivers’ hands.
Then, after that, Hunter quickly raced toward where the ball was bouncing, and once it was picked up by his teammate, Hunter immediately went into lead blocker-mode to escort his guy to the end zone.
It’s plays like that which go beyond just the impressive one-on-one ability Hunter has that should give you confidence the young star can continue to shine. Hunter isn’t just one of the best young pass-rushers in the NFL, he isn’t just one of the best bargain pass-rushers in the NFL, he’s just flat-out one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL.