Danielle Hunter is a freak, but not in the “having a physical oddity and appearing in a circus sideshow” way. In the NFL, where a select few human beings can run faster, hit harder, and react more quickly than the rest of the world’s population, Hunter may be the rarest of them all.
Before he was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the 88th-pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Hunter was a starting defensive end for the LSU Tigers. A physical specimen then, he was known more for his comically large arms than his eye-popping statistics. Despite starting 23 straight games for the Tigers between 2013 and 2014, he finished his three-year career in Louisiana with just 142 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.
For a player with such gifts, the production didn’t match the physical presence. At 6’5″ and 252 pounds, Hunter generated a mere 1.5 sacks his junior year, despite playing 80 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Entering February’s NFL Combine, scouts, analysts, and coaches knew Hunter would pass the eye test, but questions lingered on his shallow statistical output. As one former LSU coach said about Hunter before the event:
“If he walked into your living room, your eyes would pop out of your head. He looks that good on the hoof. He’s going to blow up the combine, and then ace all of the interviews and NFL teams are going to fall in love with him. He still needs someone to unlock all that talent, though.”
His performance at the Combine, paired with an impressive Pro Day and interview process, was enough to warrant the gamble from Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. The rookie defensive end appeared in 14 games last season, finishing the year with 33 tackles, six sacks, and one forced fumble. Although he played in a rotational role behind Everson Griffen and Brian Robison, Hunter made the transition from “project” to player look easy, realizing his potential in a way so few can do so early in the careers.