The Vikings underwent a lot of changes in the last offseason. The two strong men in the organization, general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer, were fired at the conclusion of the 2021 season. Minnesota failed to reach the postseason in back-to-back years, and changes had to be made in the feud-filled franchise.
Another reason for the transformations was that the players needed a new coach. They were sick of Zimmer’s approach, something that can happen if a group is together for too long.
The Vikings franchise hired GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who subsequently hired head coach Kevin O’Connell in unison with the ownership. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell preached collaboration from day one and lived by it from the beginning. All decisions appear to be team efforts. Ed Donatell was hired as the new defensive coordinator, followed by a total scheme change. The new base defensive fronts were a 3-4 instead of Zimmer’s 4-3.
‘Washed’ Viking Is Quietly Thriving
Most defenders on the roster were hand-picked by Zimmer and groomed by the defensive mastermind in his 4-3, so the transition was rather complicated. Those players will depart from the team one after another. Others will fit in. However, roster turnover is a normal process in the NFL.
One of the players that allegedly didn’t fit the scheme is Danielle Hunter. The edge rusher was a raw prospect coming out of college, and former Vikings’ defensive line coach Andre Patterson developed him into one of the most disruptive forces in the game. Hunter was so good that the Jaguars selected Travon Walker in the latest draft with the first overall pick because of athletic similarities with Hunter.
The pass rusher recorded 14.5 sacks in consecutive years from 2018 to 2019 before injuries stopped him. He famously suffered a “tweak” that resulted in a missed 2020 season with a herniated disc in his neck. In his supposed comeback year, Hunter sacked quarterbacks six times in the first seven games of the year but then tore his pectoral muscle. He had to spend the majority of another season on IR.
Entering the 2022 season, Hunter had injury concerns after only playing a total of seven games in two seasons, in addition to having to undergo a position change from defensive end to outside linebacker. In theory, it’s the same position in a league that mostly plays nickel defense, and, therefore, a 4-2 front. However, some differences exist, like a wider alignment and rushing the passer from a standing-up stance.
His numbers were low in the first few weeks. Some folks called him washed and wanted to ship him to another team for a comically low draft pick. Others referred to the strong right tackles he had faced and that the transition required some patience. Now, after a full season, it’s fair to say that the patient fans and media members have been correct.
Hunter ranks fourth in the NFL with 47 quarterback hurries, sixth with 70 quarterback pressures, and the defender recorded 10.5 sacks. His PFF grade is 86.3, which ranks him tenth in the NFL among edge rushers.
The pass rusher is thriving in his new role and will have a great matchup in the postseason. Giants’ rookie right tackle Evan Neal struggled against the veteran in Week 16. Hunter sacked Daniel Jones twice and pressured him nine times. Neal had no chance to keep Hunter in front of him.
Hunter is under contract for one more season and will earn only $5.5 million. It’s possible that the Vikings and Hunter have to start contract talks soon because Hunter likely wants a market-value deal, which would be closer to $20 million per year. The star defender signed a five-year $72 million contract in 2018. It was a relatively cheap deal for the Vikings at the time but gave Hunter financial security.
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