A Vikings Pass Rusher is Picking Up More Snaps than Danielle Hunter

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Think Danielle Hunter is leading the charge for the Vikings’ edge rushing department? Think again. Or, at least, recognize the snap count trends for an overlooked Vikings pass rusher.

Recently, it hasn’t been unusual for D.J. Wonnum to earn more snaps than his more well-known counterpart. Now, the discrepancy is very small, but it’s notable nonetheless. The comparison between Hunter and Wonnum is, frankly, not much of a comparison. The 2015 3rd-round selection is the purveyor of pass rush in Minnesota, so he’s rightly recognized as the top dog.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Washington Commanders
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) and Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) celebrate after a sack against the Washington Commanders during the third quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Wonnum, though, has proven to be no slouch. One even wonders if the Vikings will be able to afford the 26-year-old once the offseason arrives. Working alongside Brian Flores has been good for Wonnum.

What has his role looked like in the weeks leading up to the bye week?

D.J. Wonnum:
The Vikings Pass Rusher Playing More than Danielle Hunter

In football, actions speak louder than words.

The coach who insists that he trusts a player won’t get too far with words alone. More important is what happens on game day. Does the player get to leave the bench? If not, the coach may not have the belief that he claims to have. Putting a guy in for major snaps and in critical situations? Now that’s someone who has earned the trust of the coaching staff.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores watches his team play against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Lately, the Flores defense has been putting a lot on D.J. Wonnum’s shoulders. The fourth-year pass rusher has solidified himself as the clear-cut EDGE2 in Minnesota. The Marcus Davenport injury troubles opened the opportunity and Wonnum’s play has proven to be strong.

Take a look at how the snaps have gone for the EDGE1 and EDGE2 for the season:

WeekDanielle HunterD.J. Wonnum
Week 15854
Week 27252
Week 36159
Week 45645
Week 55137
Week 65647
Week 74747
Week 86263
Week 96465
Week 106162
Week 115251
Week 126569

Playing just a single snap more than Hunter isn’t a major deal. Nevertheless, the simple fact that the Vikings have a pass rusher who is being tasked with playing an equal amount — let alone a slightly larger role — is noteworthy given how much the team relies on Mr. Hunter.

Vikings Defense
Oct 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end D.J. Wonnum (98) and defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) celebrates a sack of Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (not pictured) during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Davenport was supposed to be the main man opposite Hunter. Just as a baseball team will struggle if there’s only a single power bat in the lineup, so too can a football team struggle if there’s just a single sack threat. Giving Hunter a running mate helps to ensure there isn’t a wildly disproportionate amount of attention devoted toward slowing him down.

In his 12 games (11 starts), Wonnum has picked up 6 sacks. He has 6 TFLs and 12 QB hits to go alongside those sacks, which is to say nothing of his touchdown from the Week 4 victory over the Panthers.

The ability for Mr. Wonnum to stick around for a while is a topic we’ve previously explored. After all, he’ll soon be a free agent.

At 26 — his birthday arrived on Halloween — Wonnum is at an age that aligns perfectly with Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s competitive rebuild. He’s young enough to play at a high level for several more years; he’s good enough to help a team in the immediate. What remains to be seen is how much he’ll demand since he’s among the Vikings’ many pending free agents.

in 2023 Offseason
Jul 27, 2022; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The question, then, rests in whether the Vikings can afford D.J. Wonnum. Or, perhaps, should we flip the question around? If D.J. Wonnum continues playing at a high level, can the Vikings afford not to keep him? Pass rushers capable of pushing for 10 sacks don’t grow on trees.

Over the past five games, Wonnum has surpassed Hunter for playing time. Flores must have quite a bit of trust in the fourth-year player, so the Vikings will need to think long and hard about what the future holds for the franchise’s relationship with the defender.

For the year as a whole, Hunter has climbed up to 705 snaps. Wonnum, meanwhile, finds himself at 651. Recent weeks have featured the gap growing smaller.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.