The Minnesota Vikings had 10 picks in the 2015 NFL draft. One year after their selection, it’s time to look back on their careers before joining the Vikings, their rookie seasons and a preview of what lies ahead of them during their sophomore seasons.
Since Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman teamed up as the head coach and general manager of the Minnesota Vikings, they have focused on drafting the best players available. They have drafted players that have filled needs from time to time, but their primary focus has always seemed to be bringing in the best available players as a way to provide depth and create competition.
That is a big reason why they decided to draft LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter in the third round of the 2015 draft. There was no imminent hole to fill at defensive end, but they felt as though he was too good to pass up at that point.
Before the Vikings
Hunter played three years at LSU (2012-14) and was a starter during the final two. He recorded 142 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, eight pass breakups, seven quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and he returned a fumble for a 25-yard touchdown. He has always been an athletic freak that has the rare combination of size, strength and speed, but for some reason that was never able to translate into sacks in college, which is why he slipped into the third round.
What analysts said
“Hunter isn’t as heavy as Jason Pierre-Paul, but he has similar length, explosiveness and potential. The concern with Hunter is that his pass-rush instincts are marginal and he hasn’t learned to use his physical advantages to rush the quarterback more consistently. Hunter’s floor is high thanks to his overwhelming physical traits and motor, but his ceiling will only go as high as the level of coaching he is able to incorporate.” - NFL.com bottom line
“Lanky frame and explosive get-off, even drawing comparisons to Barkevious Mingo, the first-round pick he replaced at right defensive end in defensive coordinator John Chavis' scheme. Hunter emerged as LSU's most dangerous pass rusher last season but did not have the statistics to reflect it.” - Rob Rang, CBS Sports
“Pops off the tape with rare athleticism for his size and has impressive speed in every direction. Lateral agility is more comparable to a tight end's—looks like an offensive player on defense at times. Extremely limited in his technique and instinctual abilities, though.” - Sports Illustrated pick analysis
“Hunter is a bit mechanical in his change of direction and lateral movement, but he does a good job of keeping his feet and playing with leverage and explosion. He has enough acceleration to skate, string plays out and catch a play from behind, doing a solid job to back-door plays. He fights to collapse and get to the ball, getting good push off the edge.” - Dave-Te’ Thomas, Scout.com
From Day 1 it was clear that Hunter possessed a unique combination of skills, but it took him some time to really understand the fundamentals of his position and translate what the coaches were teaching him onto the field. He played in the team’s first game of the season, recording one tackle, but was then listed as inactive for the next two.
It wasn’t until the team’s Week 6 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the first game after their bye week, that things started to click for Hunter. He was forced to start for Everson Griffen, who was unavailable for the game, and ended up recording four tackles, one tackle for a loss, a half a sack and a forced fumble.
He would remain in rotation along the defensive line for the rest of the season, working as both the right and left defensive end. He steadily got better as the season went on, continuing to gain more experience and a better understanding of the system. Hunter ended the regular season with 34 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, six sacks, 25 quarterback hits, one forced fumble and one pass defensed. He also recorded four tackles and a career-high eight quarterback hits in the team’s only playoff game of the season.
Hunter has appeared to have picked up right where he left off from last season during the Vikings’ offseason workouts. He was one of the consistent standouts on the team during both organized team activities and minicamp. He’s put on weight, but has also been able to maintain his speed, which has made it difficult for the offensive tackles to stop him.
The second-year defensive end has been getting work with both the first- and second-team defenses, which indicates that his role should remain the same as last season, at least to start the year. Brian Robison and Griffen will remain the starting defensive ends with Hunter and a number of other players rotating in and out.
The coaching staff is likely going to continue to look for Hunter to become more consistent and refined in his pass rushing, but he appears to be on the right track so far. If he can continue to develop the way he did as a rookie, he should have a bright future in the NFL.