Danielle Hunter’s emergence as the premiere pass rusher on the Vikings defense has been all the more special considering he doesn’t turn 25 until October 29th.
In 2018 Hunter finished with 14.5 sacks (4th most behind Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt and Chris Jones), 21 tackles for loss (2nd behind Donald) and 19 quarterback hits. It was a sensational campaign for the now fifth year veteran, and he earned himself his first career trip to the Pro Bowl as well as being named to the Associated Press’ Second Team All-Pro.
With that said, just how good has Hunter been before hitting the age of 25? Well, his 25.5 sacks before his age 24 season were the 10th most in NFL history. He’s also one of eight players (Shawn Merriman, Aldon Smith, Robert Quinn, Terrell Suggs, Mario Williams, Von Miller and Derrick Thomas) with at least 30 career sacks before turning 24.
Furthermore, since quarterback hits (sacks and hits after the pass was thrown are included) were fully charted by the NFL beginning in 2006, Hunter’s 58 QB hits are ninth all time before the age of 25.This was one of my favorite pressures from any pass rusher in 2018. Hunter looks as if he’s going to perform a rip move on left tackle Jason Peters and briefly slows himself. Peters gets ready for the move, and that’s when Hunter goes for the shallow swim move against Peters’ upper body.
This move is done so effortlessly that it’s hard for me to believe it could be executed this well. Hunter’s lightning fast footwork is also breathtaking on this play, and with the easy leverage he puts heavy pressure on Carson Wentz. While he doesn’t get the sack Hunter is rewarded with a QB hit and Wentz is flagged for intentional grounding, so I guess Plan B wasn’t a bad option either.
The point I wanted to make with those two clips is that Danielle Hunter’s pace in play before the age of 25 is special. He has a versatile combination of pass rushing moves and combines them with great footwork and selling points. He’s already off to a better start to his career than Everson Griffen was, and Griffen himself has been sensational on the field recently.
The expectation from draft analysts is that he will be selected in the middle of the first round, in part because of the exceptional number of quality defensive line prosepects. NFL.com’s Chad Reuter mocked him at 17th to the New York Giants, one pick before the Vikings.
The question is whether the need at defensive end is pressing enough for the Vikings to spend a first-round pick. For 2019, it might not be. But the Vikings do lack rotational pass rushers outside of Stephen Weatherly, who showed significant signs of progress last season. Gary could rotate in during pass-rush situations as an interior defensive linemen as Brian Robison did after Hunter took over the starting role in 2017.
At 277 pounds, Gary weighs as much as Tom Johnson, who has been the Vikings’ pass rushing specialist at the three-technique defensive tackle spot. Last year’s fourth-round pick Jalyn Holmes, who moved from outside to inside defensive line, weighs 283 pounds and had nearly identical wingspan and bench reps to Gary.
And as long as Hunter stays healthy it can only get better from here. He’s got plenty of sacks left in his young, young career.
Total yards allowed/game: 335.0 (10th); Rushing yards allowed/game: 110.1 (10th); Passing yards allowed/game: 224.9 (8th); Points allowed/game: 22.5 (T-16th); Sacks/pass attempt: 8.67 percent (4th); Interception rate: 1.41 percent (29th)
Icebreakers: The Vikings snapped a two-game home losing streak against the Lions (the first since 1990-91) by sacking Matthew Stafford 10 times to set a single-game franchise record. The dominant defensive performance was led by Danielle Hunter, who recorded a career-best 3.5 sacks and returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. … The 10-spot topped the previous record of sacks on Stafford among all teams (seven by Minnesota in Detroit on Oct. 25, 2015) and gives the Vikings 63 in 18 games against the tough quarterback who has been taken down 329 times in 141 career games. … This is the third time in four seasons for Detroit’s visit to Minnesota to occur in November.
You can bet if the Minnesota Vikings draft anyone that plays on the defensive side of the ball in the first round of Thursday’s draft that fans will be confused and frustrated. But in a deep offensive line draft it’s plausible that the Vikings could select the top player remaining regardless of position. Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary fits the bill as position of need down the road and Vikings-style defensive lineman .
Over his three seasons as a significant part of the Wolverines’ defense, Gary picked up 13 sacks and 62 hurries on 670 pass-rush snaps and ranked seventh in the draft class in run stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus.
In the past, Vikings GM Rich Spielman has talked about trying to find “clones” of successful NFL players. If that’s the case, Gary should be getting a good amount of consideration at TCO Performance Center. Like superstar edge rusher Danielle Hunter, Gary did not have the most impressive sack numbers but pressured the QB often and stuffed the run.
He also put together a monstrous performance at the NFL Combine. Gary ranked in the 97th percentile with a 4.58 40-yard dash, 95th percentile in vertical jump, 87th in the broad jump and did 26 bench press reps. In comparison, Hunter ran a 4.57 40-yard dash and ranked in the 84th percentile in the vertical, 98th in broad and did 25 bench press reps (per Mockdraftable).
Hunter reached his full potential in part because he was able to work with Andre Patterson, who has headed up the development and/or refinement of every Vikings D-line star under Mike Zimmer. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein points to Gary’s need to grow as a pass rusher to maximize his physical tools. Zierlein wrote: