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What will Danielle Hunter's role be in 2020 and beyond? I am very excited for that young man who can possibly lead the league in sacks. Plus, he's the youngest player to ever [reach] 50 sacks. And I believe he can be a cornerstone player for the Vikings. That is very impressive. I hope you have a great day and Skol Vikings!
— Zane Stanley in Mankato, Minnesota
Thanks for the email, Zane. I'll relay a conversation to you I recently had a with a few co-workers. We were talking about the defense and all came to the conclusion that Danielle Hunter is now essentially the face of that unit. Sure, players like Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks and the Anthonys (Barr and Harris) are crucial, but it seems to have gotten to the point where Hunter is the first player people talk about when bringing up the Vikings defense.
View the top photos of Vikings DE Danielle Hunter from the 2019 season.
And, there's a good reason for that. As you mentioned, he was the youngest player in league history to 50 career sacks. He's recorded 14.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl in back-to-back seasons, despite getting chipped by tight ends and running backs and doubled teamed. (That didn't stop him from stripping Philip Rivers in Los Angeles in 2019).
Plus, and this is the real reason I consider him a cornerstone player, but he hardly cares about his own stats. Yes, him getting to the quarterback equates to more success and likely leads to wins. But if he takes up two of three blockers and his teammates get the job done, he's just fine with that, too.
Danielle is an elite pass rusher (who is only ascending) and a model teammate. He will likely take on a bigger leadership role in 2020 as some veterans have departed, but as long as he's himself, that's enough. The Vikings are fortunate to have him represent the organization on and off the field.
Who are two unsung guys from last year's team that have to have great statistical seasons for the Vikings to have a great year? Preferably one on offense and one on defense. I'd choose Irv Smith, Jr., and Ifeadi Odenigbo.
— Kyle Benson in St. Louis, Missouri
If we're looking at key names that need to play well, the ones I would list here are the likes of Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, etc. But since you said unsung, I'll actually agree with your two picks. (A quick note that I think Garrett Bradbury would be a candidate to be a player mentioned here, but "stats" for offensive linemen are usually hidden a bit. The hope with Bardbury is that he takes a similar leap in Year 2 that Brian O'Neill did.)
Back to Irv and Ifeadi, I do expect both to have bigger roles in 2020. I've covered Ifeadi quite a bit in the Mailbag over the past few weeks, as he is a not name that would be the starting defensive end opposite Hunter right now. I'd say that Ifeadi just needs to be Ifeadi and bring the energy and passion he always has. Maybe he doesn't reach the same sack total, but if that means he's still pressuring the QB, the Vikings will love that.
As for Irv, he had 36 catches for 311 yards and two scores in his rookie year, all while being asked to play a key part of the offense. I imagine Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak and tight ends coach Brian Pariani will ask even more of him in 2020 and he will gladly accept the challenge of stepping up. Perhaps he doesn't reach 1,000 receiving yards, but his impact will be felt and I expect an uptick in each of his stats.
Kyle Hinton could be another late round steal. Six-foot-2, 295 pounds, 34 reps at 225 on the bench, 4.88 in the 40[-yard dash], 4.66 [in the] shuttle drill. Great character and work ethic. Scholar athlete — Honor Roll. Threw the hammer and discus. You need great footwork for these events. All his perceived weaknesses can be coached out of him. I hope no one steals him from the practice squad.
— Gerald Goblirsch
Gerald, I think you're spot on with these thoughts on Hinton. He was the 15th and final draft pick, so he may have been lost in the shuffle a little bit since he was a seventh-round selection, but the athleticism traits appear to be there. He also played at a D2 school (Washburn University), which may be why he didn't get picked until the final round.
View the sketch of Vikings draft pick G Kyle Hinton who was transformed into a caricature by local artist Erik Roadfeldt.
I've heard that he has drawn comparisons to former guard Brian Waters, who played 11 of his 13 seasons with the Chiefs and is in the team's ring of honor. Waters was not drafted, but he made six Pro Bowls and was a two-time All-Pro while making 170 career starts.
Hinton appears to have a little bit smaller frame than Waters, but if he can make even half the impact, then the former track thrower will be a seventh-round steal for Minnesota.
I haven't seen where Josh Kline or Everson Griffen have signed with another team. Do you think there is a chance that either would be resigned by the Vikings? Do the chances increase the longer they remain unsigned by another team?
— Kevin Farrell from Mississippi
You are correct in that neither player has signed with another team as of now. As I've mentioned before in the Mailbag, that fact theoretically means they could indeed return to the Vikings. We will let you know if that happens.