He had 25.5 sacks in his first three seasons, but continued to be categorized as raw and unpolished. Now, after 3.5 sacks and a scoop and score touchdown, that raw-unpolished defensive end might very well be one of the best defensive players in the NFL.
Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter entered the league in 2015 as a wide-eyed 21-year old out of LSU. Drafted in the third round and coming off of only a 1.5 sack season his junior year with the Tigers, not much was expected out of Danielle.
But he did something that is more and more increasingly rare in young players coming into the NFL. He listened.
He listened to the coaches in meeting rooms. He listened to veterans like Everson Griffen and Brian Robison. And he absorbed everything that all of those guys brought to the table each and every day.
Then he attributed those things to working on his craft. In just his second season in the league, as a pass rush specialist, he recorded 12.5 sacks. In his first season as a starter (2018) he tallied another 7.0 and then fast forward to this year he already has 11.5 through nine games, and most of the season he's been the number one rusher with Griffen away from the team.
"He’s a good football player and he’s getting better every single day," Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson told KFAN after the game. "The biggest thing is he never feels like he's made it. He had, what, three sacks on the day and he’s still in there asking me what he could have done better."
Locally, Vikings fans had a pretty good idea that Hunter is on the verge of being a special player and then today's game was a gigantic coming out party on the national scene for Hunter. With Aaron Darnold (10.0) playing as I write this article, Hunter could be in line to lead the league in sacks through nine games.
"He's a great kid," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN after the game. "He works his rear-end off every day. He comes in a talks to Andre (Patterson, D-Line Coach) about what he can do to get better every day."
And he's also humble as can be, not really enjoying that the limelight is now firmly affixed on him.
"It feels great," Danielle Hunter told KFAN in the locker room after the game. "All of that wouldn't be possible without my teammates. The DBs running around out there, doing their jobs. They made it possible."
With Griffen getting closer and closer to playing speed and Richardson and Joseph feasting in the middle, Danielle stands to continue his torrid pace. And let me remind you, he's still only 24 years old.
The sky may very well be the limit for Danielle Hunter and the Vikings which makes it all the better that they were able to lock him up before the season. He's playing in the first season of a 5-year, $72 million contract this year and stands to bookend the Vikings defensive line for years to come.