Danielle Hunter’s 2022 Season Is Underrated

Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The top defender of the Minnesota Vikings, Daniele Hunter, is still viewed by fans as a good player, but the appreciation declined to some extent during the back-to-back injury-plagued seasons in 2020 and 2021.

Danielle Hunter’s 2022 Season Is Underrated

He missed the full 2020 campaign because of a herniated disc and all but seven games in the following season because of a torn pectoral muscle. It was fair to question if he would ever return to his best.

2022 season is
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Hunter played the full 2022 season one year later, including a playoff game, without missing time. Staying healthy was the first important step to reach his goal and return to excellence.

The second step was to be the dominant pass rusher Vikings fans were used to seeing. At first, Hunter struggled. Maybe he wasn’t in the best shape after having to take time off, and surely the different position and scheme played a role.

Hunter had always played as a 4-3 defensive end, but with the hire of Ed Donatell and the departure of Mike Zimmer, he had to learn how to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. The positions are mostly the same in theory, and the differences are marginal from a viewer’s perspective. The main changes were a different stance and minor things like starting with a different foot.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

And indeed, Hunter needed a few weeks to get back on track before he became his old self. That prime version of Hunter is still a dominant force, earning his third Pro Bowl appearance. Pro Football Focus ranked the ten best edge rushers in terms of pressures on true pass sets in 2022, and Hunter came in seventh.

Hunter has been an incredible edge defender in his seven seasons for Minnesota. His lowest PFF grade was 70.3 as a rookie, and he is coming off three straight seasons with an 80.0-plus PFF grade. His 33 quarterback hurries versus true pass sets in 2022 tied for sixth. And 10 of his 13 sacks came against true pass sets.

Hunter will be joined by Marcus Davenport, a relatively under-the-radar signing for Minnesota, to form one of the better edge duos in the league in 2023. On an otherwise young defense, they will need to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks to take heat off the secondary. If his seven-year career is any indication, Hunter will do just fine.

Braxton Howard, PFF

The defender has proven that he can still be dominant, and the ultimate game of the campaign showed it. He was the best Vikings defender in the loss against the Giants, maybe the only one who actually played well. Hunter produced six pressures, four QB hurries, and one sack.

The Vikings 2022 Defense by the Numbers: After Week 9
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His performances were fantastic, especially in the second half of the season, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the defender wants a new contract. He is only scheduled to be paid $5.5 million in 2023. Hunter has huge leverage over the Vikings as he is the team’s best defender, and the necessary defensive turnaround would be much harder without him.

The Vikings have already traded away Za’Darius Smith and replaced him by signing Marcus Davenport in free agency. Without Hunter, the defense lacks a top-level pass rush which would cost the unproven secondary critical assistance.

With training camp right around the corner, it is possible that Hunter will not report until he receives the contract he deserves. There will be a lot of talk about it in the upcoming days and weeks.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt