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Vikings rookie defensive end Hunter molding 'raw' talent

When people speak about Danielle Hunter, including us here on this blog, the first word to describe the defensive end is typically “raw”.

He was a two-year starter at LSU, starting 23 of the 38 games he played in. When you watched how Hunter played, it’s clear there’s still plenty he has to learn and it’s not necessarily his fault. Hunter was just doing what the LSU coaching staff told him to do. Plus, he was very young in college.

While it’s extremely difficult to gauge how players in the trenches look during OTAs and minicamp without pads, you can observe technique. Hands and feet are two vital elements along the defensive line, and Hunter appears to be on the right track in those areas so far.

“He has outstanding skills and it’s just how fast he can progress from there,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. “I’ve seen him progress throughout these 13 days we’ve had, and he still a very young guy. He was a junior coming out, but I like a lot of things he does and he’s a great kid.”

It helps when your arms measured at 34 ¼ inches at the NFL Combine. Hunter, listed at 6-5 and 252 pounds, is hard to miss when lined up on the defensive line. It’s a unit that had interior depth with the emergence of defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd, Shamar Stephen and Tom Johnson over the course of last season. Now, the Vikings hope to bring depth at defensive end as well with the addition of Hunter.

“We always like size, especially up font, in the front seven,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “You don’t have to be down in the box as much with the safety, so from that aspect of it, we do like the size we have up front the length is a big thing especially with the quarterback having to throw over them versus the pass.”

We’ll find out more on how the Vikings plan to use Hunter during training camp, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll have a “redshirt” season like Scott Crichton did last year. Hunter was able to work with the team during OTAs, whereas Crichton couldn’t participate until Oregon State wrapped up its quarters.

If Hunter’s already making progress with his technique before training camp, and he retains it over the next month, it’ll help this “raw” prospect during his first NFL training camp.

Vikings rookie evaluations: DE Danielle Hunter

Part 1: Trae Waynes
Part 2: Eric Kendricks

Moving right along as we get a better understanding of this year’s Vikings draft class, we come across the most gifted Vikings rookie in terms of athleticism. Defensive end Danielle Hunter, the team’s third round pick, is by far the most intriguing selection. The 20-year-old is listed at 6-5 and 252 pounds with arms measured at 34 ¼ inches at the NFL Combine. You can read more about his story here.

He’s an athlete, but can he develop those raw traits at defensive end, or linebacker, for the Vikings?

Strengths:

Whether it’s the start of a big game or the end of a blowout, Hunter for the most part displayed a really good motor. That’s always a good sign but even more so when you’re talking about a raw talent. It shows that he’ll give effort.

 

Hunter’s pass rush, while it needs work, is clearly his biggest strength despite only having 1.5 sacks in 13 games last season. He’s strong and can gain good leverage on an offensive lineman with those long arms. He even mixed in a spin move last season that had some success. Hunter can rush standing up or with his hand in the draft at defensive end or defensive tackle on third downs. We saw a few times last year where Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer would slide defensive end Brian Robison to defensive tackle on third down passing situations and slide linebacker Anthony Barr at defensive end.

Those long arms are also valuable in terms of Hunter’s tackle radius and, of course, batting balls down. His best game last season was against Alabama, which included two balls deflected at the line of scrimmage.

 

Weaknesses:

Stopping the run is the most important element to Zimmer’s defense, and Hunter will need to improve in that facet. Pro Football Focus said he was tied second among edge rushers in the draft with a .123 run stop percentage, but I think he can definitely improve after watching him for the first time. I think it mainly points to his youth and inexperience.  He lacks instincts, and it’ll be on the coaching staff and defensive line coach Andre Patterson to bring him along in that important element.

 

He has to improve with his technique overall, but Hunter will need to use his hands better both in the pass and run. He consistently had a difficult time releasing off blocks despite his long arms and athleticism. This was a constant theme all around but noticeable against the run.

 

Bottom Line:

Hunter will need a lot of work, but he’s in a situation where the Vikings won’t be pressed to rely on him immediately. He’ll get a chance to learn from Robison and Everson Griffen, who was coaching Hunter up during OTAs on Wednesday, and continue to develop throughout his rookie season. There’s a lot of potential with Hunter though, and the possibility of playing linebacker down the road is very enticing in this defense.

I think Hunter will be the determining factor on how this draft class will be viewed in four years. The Vikings’ previous two picks, Waynes and Kendricks, aren’t exactly the same raw projects as Hunter. You have a good idea of what you’re getting from Waynes and Kendricks. That’s not the case with Hunter, who brings more uncertainty than your typical rookie given the lack of experience.

If the Vikings hit a home run with Hunter, this will be a pretty good draft class. If not, it’s going to be a pretty big whiff for a Day 2 prospect.

That’s the risk you take with selecting raw, high-ceiling prospects.

Today's Scoreboard

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