The Minnesota Vikings have had many great defensive linemen. Jim Marshall, Allen Page, Carl Eller all were not just formative players in Vikings history, but NFL history. John Randle and Chris Doleman are two of the NFL’s all-time sack leaders and made the Vikings one of the most feared defenses for quarterbacks to face in the 90s. Even more recently, Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, all had dominant stretches, especially Allen who almost broke the single season sack record.
With this list full of hall-of-famers and all-pros, it might seem crazy to suggest that the best defensive lineman in Vikings history is currently on the rouster, but Danielle Hunter has a chance to be just that.
When the Vikings took Hunter in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, he was the youngest player in the league. Many saw the pick as solid, Hunter was a crazy athletic prospect whose arm length and agility made him a hot commodity despite his age. At the same time, he was raw and would need time to be seasoned.
Luckily for him, he came to perhaps the best situation possible. In 2015, and 2016, he was a rotational piece with Everson Griffen and Brian Robison. Despite his limited role, he recorded six sacks his rookie season and 12.5 sacks in his sophomore campaign. Experts actually attributed his high sack numbers to his lack of snaps, suggesting that his use in passing situations allowed him to use all his energy to get to the quarterback.
It seemed like they were perhaps right. In 2017, Hunter’s first full season as a starter, he only recorded seven sacks. Perhaps he just needed time to adjust to the demands of playing more, because in 2018 and 2019 he collected 14.5 sacks each season. In 2019, he also became the youngest player to reach 50 sacks, beating Robert Quinn’s previous record.
All of this is well and good, but I’ve made a huge claim that Danielle Hunter is the greatest defensive lineman ever. In a franchise that has historically had such a great number of elite defensive ends and tackles, Hunter has a chance to beat them all with one simple stat, sacks.
I know sacks aren’t everything, and they weren’t recorded until 1982, so it would be hard to compare Hunter to say Marshall with that stat alone. For the sake of argument though, we’re going to say that sacks is the one measure we want because it’s the biggest thing a defensive lineman can do to effect the game, especially in today’s pass-happy NFL.
In his first five seasons, Hunter is averaging 11.184 sacks per 16 games. We are also going to make the assumption that he maintains at least this level of play and stays healthy for the next ten years. That means he will record 111.84 sacks over the next decade. Add that to his 54.5 sacks that he has already collected, and he will have 166.34 sacks. Drop the .34 because sacks are only recorded by the half and he’s at a nice round 166.
That puts Hunter in third place in number of sacks all-time. This is also assuming that he doesn’t record more sacks than his average, which he has done each of the past two seasons. Hunter hasn’t even hit his stride yet, and he takes care of his body extremely well. He could absolutely play to 35, the mark I’ve set here, or even longer. If he can average 14.5 like he has the last two years, he would be within five sacks of the NFL record at 35.
There’s still a long way to go, and a lot of uncertainty, but Hunter has a chance, and a good one at that to not only be the best defensive lineman in Vikings history, but in NFL history.