Monday, February 8, 2016

everson griffen

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Danielle Hunter's NFL Combine
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

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.

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Harrison Smith would be an impact player
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Vikings Territory asked, and the readers spoke; in this series of articles, the team will announce the winners of our fan-voted awards, from the Minnesota Vikings’ MVP of 2015 to the Rookie of the Year. Today, a look at the Defensive Player of the Year as voted by you, the fans.

Harrison Smith, FS — Minnesota Vikings

First a trip to the 2016 Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and now, a title as the Vikings Territory Defensive Player of the Year. Though not as grand, the award is important because it comes from the fans of the Minnesota Vikings. Since he was drafted in 2012, Vikings fans have known that Harrison Smith would be an impact player in Minnesota. The award, just like his Pro Bowl invitation, is long overdue, but no less deserved.

He jetted closer to stardom in 2014, the best statistical season of his four-year career. It was Smith’s five interceptions and three sacks that earned him a first-team nod on Pro Football Focus’s All-NFL team, and one could argue he improved his play in 2015. Despite missing nearly four games this year, Smith was a force against the pass and run in Mike Zimmer’s aggressive scheme. “I’m fortunate enough to be in a system where [coach Mike Zimmer] wants us to do all of those things,” he said, per Matt Vensel. “I’m just lucky to be here and happy to be here because of that.”

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Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater to the 2016 Pro Bowl
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The first round of the 2014 NFL Draft is looking golden for Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. His two picks, Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater, have been selected to play in the 2016 Pro Bowl. The news, announced on the team’s official website Monday, gives the Vikings five representatives in this year’s game.

The two will play this Sunday in Honolulu, Hawaii as injury replacements. Bridgewater will take over the spot vacated by Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and Barr will fill in for New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins. This is the first Pro Bowl selection for either player.

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Harrison Smith named to 2016 Pro Bowl
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

This is a post that should’ve been written after the 2014 regular season. And though it’s overdue, it’s no less deserved. As first reported by Darren Wolfson, Harrison Smith is expected to be named to his first Pro Bowl this week. ESPN’s Ben Goessling confirmed the report, making Smith the third Minnesota Vikings player represented in this year’s all-star contest. He’ll join Adrian Peterson and Everson Griffen in Hawaii next Sunday.

Goessling reports that two league sources confirmed Smith’s selection will be made official after tonight’s NFC Championship Game. Smith finished the season with 66 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and two interceptions in 13 total games. Though he missed nearly four games with a knee injury, Smith proved invaluable to Mike Zimmer’s defense. And even if his stats weren’t as eye-popping in 2015 as they were in 2014, Smith’s greatness didn’t go unrecognized by the NFL.

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We’re in offseason mode, but my ego can’t take not talking for a few days…. That’s why we put together a short Blitz Edition of the podcast to go over some latest Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings news and notes. We dig into Pat Shurmur interviewing with the team and what that could mean for Scott Turner, the Vikings making a change in strength and conditioning, Everson Griffen finally makes a damn Pro Bowl, and we look ahead at the 2016 schedule!

All that and other “Evan Marcus is a scary looking mofo” nonsense on this edition of the Purple FTW! Podcast.

An Andy Carlson Joint

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