How Far Can Danielle Hunter Go?

Hunting Hunter
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the Minnesota Vikings came up short against the Cincinnati Bengals, but defensive end Danielle Hunter found himself adding some zeroes to his bank account. Racking up a pair of sacks, he pushed his season total and continues to look like a contender for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

How Far Can Danielle Hunter Go?

Jake Browning was under center for the Cincinnati Bengals after Joe Burrow hit injured reserve for the rest of the season. The former Minnesota Vikings practice squad played game Brian Flores’ defense an opportunity to bring him down, and they answered in a big way with five sacks on the day. At the forefront of the pressure was edge rusher Danielle Hunter, who elevated his season to new heights in the contest.

How Far Can Danielle
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) is sacked hard by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) in the second quarter of the NFL Week 15 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings at PayCor Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. © Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Generating two sacks for the Vikings’ defense, Hunter found himself sitting with a career-high 15.5 sacks when the game ended. He had spent time this offseason asking for more dollars and has spent every game during the season showing why he was worth every penny. While the Vikings will need to pay him handsomely to keep him around, the heights he could still go this season remain to be seen.

The three-time Pro Bowl player has never finished above fifth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, but that should certainly change this season. Hunter is now a full sack beyond anything he has previously accomplished during a single season, and with three games left, he has plenty of opportunity to push the number higher.

Sack Master
Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports.

Michael Strahan’s sack record isn’t going to be in jeopardy this year, but Hunter could continue to rack up numbers as he brings down the opposing quarterback. The Vikings have yet to face the Detroit Lions, but Hunter sacked Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love once in their first matchup this season.

Heading into Week 16, Hunter trails the Pittsburgh Steelers T.J. Watt by just half a sack for the league lead. Hunter just put up a two-sack performance and has posted four games this year with more than a single sack. It stands to reason that he may have another one or two of those contests in his bag the rest of the way, which could put him in the lead by year’s end.

A season ago, the San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa led the league with 18.5 sacks. Hunter has some work to do if he wants to challenge that number, but he can surpass the mark with a few good games to close out the year. No one is touching Watt’s 22.5 sacks from 2021, but being the best in any given season is hardly a bad outcome.

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota was handed an additional bill regarding Hunter’s demands this offseason, but rather than trading or cutting him, they clearly did the right thing in getting him paid. How well they are rewarded remains to be seen, but it has very clearly been a good showing thus far.

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.