MINNEAPOLIS — Danielle Hunter’s legacy had been crescendoing into elite territory long before the Vikings’ defensive end became the youngest player in NFL history to record 50 career sacks.
Hunter, who was 25 years and 40 days old on Sunday, reached the milestone on the third play of Minnesota’s 20-7 win over the Detroit Lions when he dropped rookie backup quarterback David Blough for a 6-yard loss. The former third-round pick surpassed the record previously set by Robert Quinn, who reached his 50th sack at the age of 25 years and 167 days.
“Danielle is a beast,” Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “I’m proud of that guy, which is why I had to embellish on that. He works hard and knows his skill set. He is truly a team player and really cares about the next guy, so it’s no surprise he’s having the success he’s having.”
The defensive end, who was drafted by Minnesota out of LSU in 2015, recorded two additional sacks Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Vikings’ defense pressured Blough on just 11 of his 45 dropbacks (24%), their fourth-lowest rate of the season. But they made their pass-rushing efforts count as Blough was 0-of-6 with an interception and five sacks on those plays.
Hunter now has 12.5 sacks in 13 games (ranked fourth) and leads all NFL defenders in total pressures. The 25-year-old is the third Viking to record 50 sacks in his first five seasons with the team, joining Jared Allen (74) and Keith Millard (53).
Perhaps the easiest of Hunter’s three sacks in Week 14 was his first, when the defensive end was isolated one-on-one with Lions tight end Jesse James. Those types of mismatches, Hunter says, have occurred often this year and give him extra motivation to win the matchup because, “he’s not a tackle, he’s more of [a pass-catcher] so when you go out there and get a one-on-one with a tight end, you just try to beat him quickly.”
“Most of these teams don’t want to get blitzed,” coach Mike Zimmer said of those matchups. “So that’s their way to help, help in protection and things like that. So, you know, pick your poison.”
In five seasons with the Vikings, Hunter has amassed 52.5 sacks. Earlier this season, the DE earned the recognition of having the most career sacks by age 25 with 48, setting that mark in October when he brought down quarterbacks five times in a four-game stretch.
Still in the infancy of his career, Hunter is regarded as one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the NFL. Yet Hunter refuses to let himself think about where his ceiling is currently and how much further he has to go.
“No, I only think about the ‘now’ moment,” Hunter said. “I think about what I need to do now to help my team in order to win games and in order to put my teammates in position to make plays.”
Hunter was quick to bestow credit on his teammates for setting himself up for a monster day against the Lions. He now has 11.0 career sacks against Detroit, which is more than any other opponent in his career.
“Sometimes they’ll have a chipper on the other side or a chipper on my side,” Hunter said. “If Griff’s [Everson Griffen] hot, they’ll set the chipper up on his side and then it’ll leave [a] one-on-one on the left side of the line, over the middle of the line and all that. It all comes back down to the DBs and the linebackers whenever they cover their guys and have the quarterback hold the ball.”