It was April of 2015 and I was at a local establishment watching the NFL Draft. As the rounds started blending together, the Minnesota Vikings were up with their second pick of the third round (or was it fourth? No, it was third. Anyway...).
After the Vikings selected Trae Waynes and Eric Kendricks with their first two picks, Mike Zimmer was likely in a war room at Winter Park screaming "MORE DEFENSE, DAMN IT!!!" With the Vikings on the clock, they went ahead and made their pick as it flashed across the screen, prompting me to say this exactly as it reads.
"Who in the hell is Danielle Hunter?"
Fast forward four years and many football fans across the country are asking the same thing. On Sunday, Hunter became the youngest player in NFL history to record 50 career sacks and yet he's about as commonly known or seen as Bigfoot. Even opposing quarterbacks are unlikely to see or snap a photo of him as he quickly slams them into the turf before they know what happened.
So how did Hunter go from an unknown to a pass-rushing god? A lot of that goes to the Vikings' attribution to analytics.
You see, some guy that probably looks like Professor Fink saw something in Hunter despite the fact he racked up just 1 1/2 sacks during his junior season at LSU. While many thought he was a project, his measurables showed the freakish ability that MockDraftable compared him to Jadeveon Clowney, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
With little risk, but a ridiculously high reward, the Vikings selected Hunter with the 92nd pick of that draft and prompted then NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock to spit off this sound-byte.
"This prospect was polarizing, positive or negative. There is no doubt he's a physical specimen with considerable upside, but he was nowhere near ready to come out of LSU. He still has to learn how to play football."
Enter defensive line coach Andre Patterson. As I've mentioned before, Patterson could probably teach a homeless guy how to become an All-Pro defensive end and since Hunter looks like a UFC fighter, things tended to work out quite well for the Vikings.
(NOTE: Mayock would go on to become the general manager for the Oakland Raiders and select Clelin Ferrell with the fourth overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, who has 3 1/2 sacks through 12 career games.)
After racking up 12 1/2 sacks without starting a game in 2016, Hunter became a full-time starter in 2017 and hasn't looked back. This season, Hunter ranks third in Pro Football Focus' Pass Rushing Productivity rating at 10.1 after finishing eighth in that metric with an 8.6 rating last season.
Hunter has also hit that 12 1/2 sacks mark through 13 games this season and the scary part is there are still three games to go. And yet nobody outside of Minnesota is talking about this guy.
Perhaps that's just the way Hunter likes it as he rose from obscurity to become one of the Vikings greatest draft gems of all time. If Hunter can keep playing and producing like he has, eventually the attention will follow and we could be talking about a Hall of Famer by the time his career is over.