How Could the Vikings Replace Danielle Hunter? A Look at a Multitude of Different Options

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings had an encouraging year in 2023 from Danielle Hunter, whose 23 tackles for loss tied for first in the NFL, and his 16.5 sacks ranked fifth, respectively.

Per PFF, Hunter comes into the spring as the third-best available edge defender set to hit the open market, trailing Jacksonville Jaguars’ Josh Allen and Carolina Panthers’ Brian Burns. According to Spotrac, Danielle Hunter’s calculated market value is $20 million annually. That would be comparable to the deals given to Pittsburgh Steelers’ T.J. Watt, Los Angeles Chargers Joey Bosa, and Green Bay Packers’ Rashan Gary.

Could Danielle Hunter Leave in Free Agency?

Danielle Hunter
Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2023 season, Danielle Hunter, who previously faced durability concerns, set a new career high in total snaps played, breaking 1,000 snaps for the first time. This comes after 2022, in which he played 966 snaps, per PFF.

Having proven his destructive pass rushing ability is still there, and his injury concerns are in the past, Hunter should have a great 2024 free agency. If that’s not with the Minnesota Vikings, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah would be looking at replacing one of the best players off the edge in the league.

Here’s what PFF has to say about their third-place ranking of Danielle Hunter in his respective free agency class (linked above), “Hunter was a revelation in new Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ blitz-heavy scheme, though he was just as productive in 2022. Teams that run a 3-4 or 4-3 could probably find a way to effectively deploy Hunter, and injury concerns of a few years ago seem like distant memories. He finished another season with 900-plus snaps, 70-plus quarterback pressures and double-digit sacks.”

Odds are that Josh Allen or Brian Burns won’t even make it to free agency. Hunter has the best chance to test free agency out of those three and will get paid handsomely.

Free Agency

Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson (45) yells during the team introduction before a regular season NFL football matchup Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023 at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. The Baltimore Ravens defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-7.

K’Lavon Chaisson, Jacksonville Jaguars

Hunter’s alma mater is known for putting out uber-athletic, lengthy pass rushers, and Chaisson was supposed to be next in line. Instead, the former first-round pick will hit free agency with five sacks over four years. Still only 24, another team could reap the rewards, of which the Jaguars lost patience. 

Projected Market Value: $3 million annually.

Derek Barnett, Houston Texans

The league has been waiting forever for Barnett to explode onto the scene as Philadelphia’s next menace off the edge. However, that never came to fruition as the Eagles waived Barnett last November. Barnett was claimed by Houston and put up some solid tape. At 27, his projected value could be great for the former 14th overall pick.

Projected Market Value: $5 million annually.

A.J. Epenesa, Buffalo Bills

Epenesa fills a different role than the players listed above. More of a big run defender who sets the edge, he could be a good pivot if the Vikings were instead planning on filling Hunter’s void through the draft. Epenesa is a former second-round pick and is still just 25 years old.

Projected Market Value: $5.6 million annually.

The Draft

Nov 11, 2023; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Darius Robinson (6) looks on during the first half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Verse, Florida State

Replacing Danielle Hunter with Jared Verse is about as one-for-one as possible. Verse is a tenacious edge defender with a bully mentality once he puts the helmet on. He has excellent power, speed, and the best size profile out of the top guys in the class. If the talent for offense weren’t so condensed at the top, Verse would be a top five pick. 

Cody’s Projected Draft Round: First Round.

Jared Verse scouting report

Darius Robinson, Missouri

Darius Robinson crushed it at the Senior Bowl. He weighed over 280 pounds, and his 34-inch arms wowed scouts in Mobile, AL. He spent the week showcasing impressive fluidity for his size while ripping through some of the draft’s best offensive linemen. Robinson is flying up boards now and may not be there in round two come April.

Cody’s Projected Draft Round: Second Round.

Austin Booker, Kansas

Austin Booker is an intriguing player for the Vikings to consider. He has massive length at 6’6″ but could use some NFL development as he’s projected to come in around 245 pounds. Booker has yet to play much football to this point after he started his career late. Booker should light up the combine. If coaches feel good about where he’s at in learning the game, I’d expect him to be a top-50 pick. 

Cody’s Projected Draft Round: Second Round.

Trade Market

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Tyus Bowser (54) signals a first down pick up during the third quarter of a regular season NFL football matchup Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Jaguars edged the Ravens 28-27. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union] Jki 112722 Nfl Ravens Jags Cp 124

Tyus Bowser, Baltimore Ravens

After missing just one game in five years, Bowser missed all of 2023 with a knee injury. That could provide an opening for a team to get Bowser at a reduced cost. The Raven was already trending down in 2022, but at 29, he could provide some value as a number two pass rusher. 

Cody’s Projected Trade Compensation: 2024 sixth round.

Anthony Nelson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Nelson has been an underrated contributor on a pretty successful Buccaneers team for the past five seasons. He has a cost-effective deal for another year with Tampa. If Nelson decided he was finished waiting for an opportunity to get a big contract, he could look to be traded somewhere else. 

Cody’s Projected Trade Compensation: 2024 sixth round.

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via Pro Football Focus and Spotrac.