Vikings Sack Master Leads the Way in Sack Race

Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) tackles New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

It took nearly the entirety of preseason, but eventually, the Minnesota Vikings and Danielle Hunter agreed to terms on a contract extension. Elite pass rushers aren’t easy to come by, so you don’t let them leave when you’ve got one in the building.

Vikings Sack Master Leads the Way in Sack Race

After a career-threatening neck injury in 2020, Hunter has been working his way back to the elite form he showed pre-injury when he became the youngest player in NFL history to 50 sacks. Judging by the Vikings first two games of the 2023 season, Hunter will thrive in Brian Flores’s defense. The Vikings sack master leads the way in the sack race and should have the staying power to stay there.

Sack Master
Sep 19, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) following the game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports.

After two games, Hunter has four sacks, which is joint most across the league, alongside Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt. A hat trick of sacks against an elite offensive line like the Philadelphia Eagles possess is an impressive start to the season. With four sacks through two games, Hunter could challenge his career high of 14.5 sacks, which he reached in both 2018 and 2019. It may take around 20 sacks to top the charts come the end of the season. Can Hunter reach those heights?

Yes, he can. With his injury problems behind him, the stage is set for Hunter to have a career season. The way Flores brings pressure — sometimes as many as seven players — leaves the opposition little chance for double-teaming Hunter. He wins his one-on-one matchups and gets to the quarterback quicker than anybody else. The men to beat are likely Nick Bosa, Micah Parsons, Myles Garrett, and the man who sits with him on four sacks through two games — T.J. Watt. Can Hunter prove he is well and truly back in that category?

PurplePTSD: A Less Fearsome Pass Rush, Saints Injuries, Is this Primetime for Cousins?
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) and linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) react during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Hunter’s start to the season hasn’t gone unnoticed. Fox Sports recently put him at number 10 in their top 10 edge rusher rankings. Carmen Vitali, NFC North reporter for Fox, had this to say;

Hunter has four seasons with double-digit sack numbers despite spending his entire career in Minnesota through varying schemes. Now in Brian Flores’ defense, Hunter will be the first elite pass-rusher Flores has led as a coordinator or head coach. 

“This is really the first time that I’ve been around a guy who I think will consistently win one-on-ones,” Flores told me.

Hunter, as a result, should be featured even more in the defense this year, opposite Marcus Davenport. Those two should open up more one-on-one opportunities for each other and force offensive lines to make some tough decisions. The Vikings blitzed the second-most of any team in Week 1 and if that continues, Hunter could put up even bigger numbers. His single-season career best is 14.5 sacks. He’s made the Pro Bowl three times. I would think this year he ends up making a fourth if he stays healthy.

Carmen Vitali, Fox Sports

Vikings Sack Leaders

Hunter has moved to 75 sacks as a Viking, which is the eighth most in franchise history. He needs five more to overtake former teammate Everson Griffen (79.5 sacks) and go into seventh place. He would need a further six to go past Jared Allen (85.5 sacks) and into Sixth place. That would mean Hunter reaching 15 sacks for the season and breaking his own personal record. Fifth-place Chris Doleman (96.5 sacks) is out of reach this season unless Hunter breaks the record for most sacks in a season by a considerable margin.

Nov 12, 1989; Tampa, FL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman (56) in action against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tampa Stadium. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports.

Nevertheless, that’s the kind of names a hunter is mixing with when it comes to Vikings history. Next come the real big hitters, John Randle and the Purple People Eaters. Can Hunter break into that top five? He only turns 29 in October, and if he stays in Minnesota for another four years, it could happen — Carl Ellers’s record of 130.5 sacks is a long way off though.

For now, Hunter’s focus will be on hunting down Justin Herbert. The Chargers quarterback has been sacked six times over the first two games. Hunter and the Vikings will want to keep up that pace as a minimum when the battle of two 0-2 commences on Sunday.