While the Pro Bowl is hardly anything to tune into at this point, it’s still an honor when a player gets that level of recognition. With Danielle Hunter now going for the Vikings, he put quite a nice bow on a 2022 season of vindication.
Coming into 2022, there was plenty of excitement surrounding the Minnesota Vikings pass rush. Za’Darius Smith had joined the defense from Green Bay, and he was certainly ready to get after Aaron Rodgers in Week 1. Danielle Hunter was also back for Minnesota, and after playing in just seven games a season ago, the tandem should have struck fear into opposing offensive lines.
Danielle Hunter Answered the Call
The problem for both Smith and Hunter was that injury had sapped their effectiveness a season ago. Hunter’s presence, or lack thereof, was fully on display as Minnesota fans saw him for just seven games in Mike Zimmer’s final season. Despite having emerged as one of the premiere pass rushers across the NFL, he couldn’t get healthy in 2021 and his season ended with just six sacks.
Fast forward to 2022, and a slower start might have provided some cause for concern. Hunter did bring down Rodgers once during Minnesota’s Week 1 contest, but he had just three sacks through the first seven games. Maybe it was trying to work into a new 3-4 scheme, or perhaps he was taking the pressure off of Smith on the other side. No matter what the cause was, the results indeed weren’t encouraging.
Then things changed.
Going into the playoffs, Smith noted that he was dealing with a nagging knee issue and Hunter’s play helped to take pressure off of him. The play he noted was Hunter racking up 7.5 sacks through the next eight games. He came on like a madman and was constantly bringing down opposing quarterbacks. In their regular season meetings, he got to both Taylor Heinecke and Daniel Jones twice, and his 10.5 sacks ended up overtaking Smith to lead Minnesota.
Having recently turned 28 years old and now with 71 career sacks to his credit, Hunter continues to climb the Vikings all-time leaderboard. He has long been a fan favorite in Minnesota, and the hope would be that he can return on a defense that needs plenty of help. Now selected for his third Pro Bowl, Hunter adds another accolade to his career resume. His 2022 certainly wasn’t worth any All-Pro nods, as we saw in years when he contributed 14.5 sacks back in 2018 and 2019, but the output was nothing to be disappointed in either.
Taken in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of LSU, Hunter has done nothing but continue to produce in each of his professional seasons. If Justin Jefferson is the Tigers leader of the offense, then it has always been Hunter on the defense. Here’s to hoping he has fun in Las Vegas, stays healthy during the carnival games, and returns ready to make Minnesota’s defensive unit substantially better than we saw this year.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.