Minnesota Vikings rookie defensive end Danielle Hunter played a fairly large role in his first-ever regular season game last Monday night. He received 20 snaps on the defensive side of the ball and eight snaps on special teams, which may have been more than people were expecting him to get.
The Vikings drafted Hunter in the third round of the 2015 draft out of LSU and it was thought that it may take a couple years for him to develop. He is listed at 6-6, 240 pounds. He has very good speed for someone his size and a lot of athleticism; however, he is considered raw as a player.
“Danielle is still a little raw, but has a ton of upside,” said Ben Love, publisher of Scout’s LSU site Tiger Sports Digest, when the Vikings drafted Hunter. “Freakish athlete, great size. Really good at running down running backs, but not exactly a sack artist. Always felt like he should’ve been a better pass rusher with that body/skill set.”
This is not the first time the Vikings have drafted a raw defensive end with a lot of athleticism and upside, though. They did it a few years ago with Everson Griffen and then had him sit and learn behind Jared Allen and now it looks as though Griffen has become the mentor.
“He shows me guidance because he tells me about my speed and all that,” Hunter said of Griffen. “I need to use it all the time and he tells me things I need to do in certain situations and how to get out of it because he probably has the same speed and tells me stuff to do in situations.”
The help and guidance of Griffen likely played into the development of Hunter because he knows what the rookie is going through since he has been there before. The veteran is then able to help him out and tell him what he needs to work on in order to make the biggest impact on this team that he can.
But Hunter has also been pushing himself. He studies film by himself whenever he can and really focuses on the guys that he will be playing against in the team’s next game. He doesn’t want to be the only player on the defense that does not know what is happening at any given point during the game.
“Every guy on the field knows what they are doing,” he said. “At the college level you’ve got guys that don’t know what they’re doing, but at this level everyone knows what they’re doing. Guys know what plays are going to be happening and all that.”
All the hard work that he put in preparing for the game helped him keep a level head while on the field, even though it was a nationally televised game. He never let the moment get too big for him.
“I was excited about (it being Monday Night Football) and the preseason and all that, but just going out there and playing you do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “Don’t think too much and do what you’ve got to do.”
Hunter now has a couple more firsts coming up this Sunday. It will be his first time playing at home in front of his own fans in the NFL and his first time playing in a divisional game. He is excited about the opportunity that is in front of him but is once again trying to keep a level head about it all.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “Just got to go out there and do the same thing I did last week and do what the coaches tell me to do.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer won’t divulge his game plan, so it can always be hard to tell what a player’s role is going to be. But Hunter did say he expects to have much of the same role he had in the team’s first game of the season when they play again Sunday.