Lunchbreak: Hunter Included in ESPN’s List of ‘New Batch of Stars’

It’s safe to say Danielle Hunter has arrived in the NFL.

The Vikings defensive end set a career high with 14.5 sacks in 2018 on the way to his first Pro Bowl appearance after putting together his best season in the league.

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com recently tabbed Hunter as one of a dozen players in the NFL who became a household name with their play this past season.

Graziano wrote:

Yet every season, the league manages to produce a new batch of stars – players who began the year hopeful for success and stardom and whose season launched them into stardom.

It is those players we honor with the traditional playing of "Pomp and Circumstance" and our annual list of those who graduated to stardom in 2018.

View the top 30 tackles caught on camera from the 2018 Vikings season.

Graziano broke down the expectations surrounding Hunter entering the 2018 season and what he did to elevate his status around the NFL.

Who he was in August: A fourth-year Vikings defensive end who'd had a 12.5-sack season in 2016 but didn't follow it up with another dazzler in 2017. Hunter signed a contract extension last offseason with the Vikings, who bet on his potential at age 23.

Who he is now: One of the league's premier pass-rushers at age 24 and one of the cornerstones of a Vikings defense that will hope to lead the team's recovery from its disappointing 2018.

Hunter, who turned just 24 years old in October, had three multi-sack games and recorded at least one sack in 10 of Minnesota’s 16 contests.

He has 40 career sacks in four seasons, which topped Hall of Famer Alan Page’s franchise record for a Viking in his first four pro seasons.

View the best exclusive images shot by team photographers of Vikings offensive line during the 2018 season.

Rosenthal: Improved offensive line could help Vikings Super Bowl hopes

The Vikings went 8-7-1 and missed out on the playoffs in 2018 as the season culminated with a disappointing home loss to Chicago in Week 17.

Minnesota’s front office and coaching staff have been hard at work over the last month preparing for free agency and the draft as the Vikings look for a rebound season in 2019.

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com recently picked out one thing each NFC team can do to improve their Super Bowl odds, and he opined the Vikings should focus on their offensive line.

Rosenthal wrote:

The carefully constructed defense [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer and [General Manager] Rick Spielman have created can only take the Vikings so far – and it can only stay together for so long. With excellent talent throughout the skill positions, the potential for growth clearly lies with the offense. Offensive [Coordinator] Kevin Stefanski, who landed the full-time gig after serving in an interim capacity in 2018, needs to create an offense that takes advantage of its incredible wideouts.

That is only possible to do with a better offensive line. While play-calling and Kirk Cousins' struggles in big games drew plenty of criticism, the bottom line is, the Vikings weren't going anywhere with their line performing as poorly as any in the league. The coaching and the personnel need to be better.

Minnesota finished its season with eight offensive linemen on the active roster, and each started at least two games during the 2018 campaign.

The Vikings, who currently hold the 18th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, also used six different starting combinations up front.

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