J.J. Watt Heaps Praise on Vikings Defender

Retired Arizona Cardinal J.J. Watt speaks with the press during the 19th annual Pat's Run outside Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe on April 15, 2023. © Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Danielle Hunter has around the eighth-best odds to win the NFL’s 2023 Defensive Player of the Year award through seven weeks, situated at a +5000 moneyline along with Las Vegas Raiders pass rusher Maxx Crosby.

J.J. Watt Heaps Praise on Vikings Defender

Hunter has produced a magnificent season to date, leading the NFL in sacks (9.0) and tackles for loss (12) as the Vikings have perhaps turned their season around from a dreadful 1-4 start. Minnesota toppled the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football four days ago, now set to take on the simpler part of its schedule.

Watt Heaps
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And folks have taken notice of Hunter’s heroism, even future Hall of Famers. Former Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt used the X app this week to commend Hunter’s 2023 performance.

Without prompting, Watt tweeted Thursday, “Danielle Hunter deserves more credit than he gets. Currently leading the NFL in Sacks. Currently leading the NFL in TFLs. Averaging 10 sacks a year since he came into the league. A consistent, solid player who is having a hell of a year.”

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Watt ranks 34th on the NFL’s all-time sack leaderboard with 114.5, retiring after the 2022 season spent with the Arizona Cardinals. He’s now active on the X app and is an analyst for CBS’ The NFL Today.

Recognizing Hunter is somewhat new, as the Vikings defender always seems to fly under the national radar. The man never really encounters slow stretches or down games and has remained an anchor of the Vikings defense for years. Selected in the 3rd Round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Hunter worked his way up the depth chart, becoming a starter by the 2017 season.

Hunter Is
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.

This year, Hunter has been unleashed in Brian Flores’ aggressive system. Flores prefers to blitz, blitz, and then blitz some more, leaving men like Hunter freed up to do more damage in the pocket and vice versa for his teammates. Hunter thrived in Ed Donatell’s system last year, too, but 2023 has taken him to a new level.

Meanwhile, Hunter was the focal point of trade rumors before the Vikings defeated the 49ers in Week 7. Many speculated he could be traded in a “fire sale” by the Vikings to the Jacksonville Jaguars or Las Vegas Raiders, for example, but those theories were a bit far-fetched because a Vikings trade bonanza was only theoretical.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports.

After Thursday Night Football in Week 8, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota owns a temporary playoff spot in the NFC and would play a postseason game against the Detroit Lions if the tournament began tomorrow. The moral of the story? The oft-mentioned Vikings fire sale is likely kaput.

Hunter is on pace for 22 sacks in 2023. His career-high in a season was 14.5, accrued twice in 2018 and 2019.


Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.

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