Can Danielle Hunter Put Together a Full Season?

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The Minnesota Vikings are on the verge of a .500 record, and their big win against the San Francisco 49ers is the reason for the resurgence. Brian Flores has flipped the defensive output on its head, and Danielle Hunter is leading the charge upfront. Through seven games, he’s been nothing short of fantastic, but can he close it out the final 10?

Can Danielle Hunter Put Together a Full Season?

Last season, the Vikings brought in Za’Darius Smith to pair with Danielle Hunter on the edge. Giving former defensive coordinator Ed Donatell a pair of talented edge rushers would force the opposition to avoid double teams, in theory. It worked for the most part in that one or the other was often able to get home and put pressure on the opposing quarterback.

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Out of the gate in 2022, it was the new edge, Smith, that found significant success. Racking up sacks with relative ease, he was using the opportunities afforded to him while offensive lines focused on Hunter. Then, as Smith dealt with injury and faded down the stretch, Hunter picked him up and ultimately wound up with 10.5 sacks to his credit.

Now, through the first seven games in 2023, Hunter is on a whole new level, and that’s more than welcomed, considering his offseason extension. Looking for more money yet again, Minnesota found enough to satisfy him for the season ahead. Although Smith forced his way out, Hunter was still rostered and ready to roll. With a league-leading nine sacks to this point, he is once again turning heads.

Although his brother T.J. Watt is on the tail of Hunter for the NFL sack lead, J.J. recently called out just how spectacular Danielle has been. Hunter is already within 1.5 sacks of his total last year, and he could blow by the career-high 14.5 sacks he put up in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

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As a three-time Pro Bowl player, Hunter has been noticed for his efforts, but he currently is on a whole new level. Some of that should certainly be attributed to Flores. The new Vikings defensive coordinator has done much better scheming players into ideal opportunities, and dialing up pressure so consistently will definitely play into Hunter’s skillset. Hunter himself should be credited for going out and earning the additional dollars he requested this offseason, and while he is set to be a free agent at year’s end, the payday will again be lucrative.

What might be most impressive is how Hunter does this despite off-side help. The role Smith vacated was initially backfilled with Marcus Davenport. That signing has been nothing short of a trainwreck, with the former Saints edge rusher being both ineffective and unavailable. D.J. Wonnum and others have rotated through the spot, but no one opposes the threat Hunter does on the opposite side. Even with the offense keying on him, Hunter has remained unphased and continues to get the job done.

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Throughout the year, and regardless of the opponent, Flores has used pressure to put the Vikings defense in advantageous situations. That’s an understandable premise considering the questionable ability of some of the secondary, but it works out even better when the blitzes bear fruit.

This weekend, the Green Bay Packers will ask Jordan Love to face that pressure, and he has struggled mightily when seeing it. Hunter racking up yet another sack shouldn’t be out of the question, and the defense can set the tone Sunday at Lambeau.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.