The Minnesota Vikings made great strides in the 2022 season, wresting control of the NFC North early in the season and winning the division title with relative ease.
The combination of first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had the desired impact on a franchise that had soured quite a bit under previous head coach Mike Zimmer. The Vikings won 13 regular-season games and excelled when they were involved in one-score games.
However, Minnesota was not a finished product last year as the defense was far from championship standards. The Vikings ranked 31st in yards allowed and 30th in scoring defense. As a result, when the Vikings played the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, they were on the wrong end of blowout losses.
The defense also stumbled in a regular-season loss to the Detroit Lions and was at its worst when they faced the New York Giants at home in the Wild Card game.
Perhaps that game more than any other indicated how far the defense had to go to become a legitimate threat in the NFC. New York quarterback Daniel Jones, who is far from a finished product, had his way with the Minnesota defense in a 31-24 loss. Jones dissected the Vikings defense in a surgical fashion, looking like a Pro Bowl performer with New York’s crew of mediocre receivers.
The Vikings were unable to put any sustained pressure on Jones, and much of that is on the shoulders of edge rusher Danielle Hunter. While he led the Vikings with 10.5 sacks during the regular season, he was not a dominant player. The time has come to trade Hunter away.
Trade Danielle Hunter
The Vikings were expecting huge things from Hunter in the 2022 season, as he had missed the 2020 season with neck issues and was limited to 7 games in 2021 with additional injuries.
However, those health issues were behind him by the time training camp started and he appeared to be in peak form when the regular season started. That meant that the 28-year-old Hunter should have been ready for the kind of seasons that he had in 2018 and 2019.
Hunter was one of the top pass rushers in the league in those two seasons, recording 14.5 sacks in each of those years. He was the primary of opposing offenses, knowing they had to control Hunter if they wanted to get the best of the Minnesota defense.
Hunter may have been a nominal Pro Bowler in 2022, but he was never the game wrecker he was in his two peak seasons.
The defensive end/outside linebacker never got comfortable in the Vikings 3-4 defense, and he had just 4.5 sacks in the final 8 games of the season. He was unable to sustain success over long periods of time.
While the insertion of Brian Flores as the team’s defensive coordinator should give the Vikings a more aggressive defense than the team had in 2021 under Ed Donatell, that does not mean Hunter will rise to his previous level.
The belief here is that he peaked in 2018 and 2019, and he will not get back to that form again. The Vikings would benefit by trading him for an established player or high-level draft picks.
If they keep Hunter, they will likely be disappointed with his overall play. If they move on, it will give other players a chance to excel under a new defensive coordinator