MINNEAPOLIS — If you have watched enough Minnesota Vikings football, you know when the opposing team lines up a tight end across from Danielle Hunter, it’s over. Just write down another sack.
That was the case in the Vikings’ 20-7 win over the Detroit Lions on the game’s opening drive. Third-string quarterback David Blough dropped back on third-and-long and Hunter went through tight end Jesse James like he was a ghost and pulled down the helpless quarterback.
Later in the game Blough tried to run away from Hunter on a scramble. Turns out he’s not at Purdue anymore and Hunter runs a 4.5 40-yard dash.
By the end of the game, Hunter had three sacks, pushing him over 50 for his career, making him the youngest player to accomplish that feat.
“It’s an honor,” Hunter said. “I definitely didn’t do it by myself. Teammates, coaches and all that, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. If it was an individual effort, I wouldn’t have been nowhere close to it.”
Around the Vikings’ locker room at US Bank Stadium, there were plenty of people beaming with pride for their teammate, who is quietly the NFL’s leader in QB pressures and top-five in sacks.
“He’s a f—ing beast,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “He’s very humble, that’s why I decided to embellish on that. He just comes in and works hard, he knows his skill set, he knows what he’s good at, always a team player, cares about the next guy and it shows.”
Whenever Hunter gets a sack, he has a jump-kick celebration. It used to just be him and Everson Griffen but now others like Kendricks get into the mix. The veteran linebacker, who is also having a Pro Bowl-worthy season, said it’s been remarkable to see Hunter’s growth from a raw player out of LSU to one of the NFL’s best at his position.
“I actually trained with him for the Combine, he thought he was going to be an outside linebacker, so he was coming to me asking how to drop [in coverage] and stuff like that and we end up getting drafted to the same team, it’s super cool to see his development and his skill set improve every year,” Kendricks said.
Hunter explained that circumstance has played a role in his accomplishments. Playing alongside Pro Bowlers Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr in the front-seven forces teams to account for a number of highly-skilled players.
“Sometimes they’ll have a chipper on the other side or a chipper on my side,” Hunter said. “If Griff’s hot, they’ll set the chipper up on his side and then it’ll leave one-on-one on the left side of the line, over the middle of the line and all that. It all comes back down to the DBs and the linebackers whenever they cover their guys and have the quarterback hold the ball.”
But those players who have helped him along the way have been impressed with his disposition from the start of Hunter’s career.
“We all work together and since Day 1 I knew he was a special guy,” Joseph said. “I knew that he was going to be who he was. You can just tell when guys come in, they listen, they do everything right, they work hard and every day he works to become great and I respect him for that.”
“We all help each other, we’ve been together for four, five years and we just make each other better, we push each other, we hold everybody at a high standard and he’s living up to it,” Joseph added.
Here are some additional comments from Vikings’ players on Hunter’s accomplishment…
Antony Barr said:
“It’s a beautiful thing to watch and to be a part of. Obviously it’s an individual stat, we all try to help him make his plays and it’s fun to be on this team, fun to be his teammate. He’s really become comfortable being himself, I don’t think he tries to be anybody he’s not, he knows who he is and he goes out there and plays like himself every day and that’s all we ask.”
Kirk Cousins said:
“He’s got a great way about him with his work ethic. Football matters to him. And he’s obviously talented. Certainly looks the part. But he’s a great pass rusher. He’s strong. Not a lot of weaknesses to his game. And when you can give our defense a lead at home and give them the chance to rush the passer, someone like Danielle is going to take full advantage. So we need to give them more opportunities to do that by getting a lead early and getting that momentum.”
Mike Zimmer said:
“Well, he’s a terrific athlete. Great kid. Hard worker. I still think he’s got a lot of room to grow. He’s got some things that he can really improve on, and if it goes to that point where he does those, he’ll be really, really good.”