Numbers Say Hunter + Griffen Duo Better Than Ever

Photo: @VikingsPR – Twitter

The golden age of the Mike Zimmer era was headlined by an elite defense. At the core of that sturdy defense was an unstoppable pass rush from both sides of the defensive line. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter were among the best defensive end duos in the NFL from 2015-2019, totaling 99.5 sacks, 118 TFL and 194 QB hits between the two of them (pro-football-reference).

But neither played for the purple in 2020. Everson Griffen signed with Dallas and was eventually traded to Detroit. Danielle Hunter missed the entire season with a mysterious neck injury that we later found out was a slipped disk. The future was cloudy but it felt like we had seen the last of Everson and Danielle terrorizing QB’s in the same backfield.

But not so fast! Griffen signed back with the Vikings during training camp and Danielle Hunter, after a surgery to repair his slipped disc, signed an altered contract and returned as well. And when the lights went on, the two picked up right where they had left off in 2019.

2021 resurgence from Griffen

#97 has been the biggest and most pleasant surprise. Brought back on the cheap this offseason, the veteran defensive end wasn’t expected to take a large portion of the team’s snaps. Using Pro Football Reference’s AV (Approximate Value) metric, Everson Griffen had one of the worst seasons of his career while with Dallas and Detroit in 2020.

From 2014-2019, Griffen compiled 55 AV (AVG 11 AV/YR), which is very good. He went to Pro Bowls every season during that stretch except 2018, when he only reached 6 AV. Last year, while away from Minnesota, Griffen posted a meager 2 AV. The man was simply born to be a Minnesota Viking.

Entering the season, Zimmer and Patterson expected Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, and Everson Griffen to play in a rotation at right defensive end. But then the games started and Griffen far-and-away outperformed the others.

Here are the Pro Football Focus grades for Hunter, Griffen and Weatherly, through six weeks. Looking for DJ Wonnum? PFF lists him as an interior defender, where he ranks 101/104 with a 47.5 overall grade. Luckily, thanks to Griffen’s return, it hasn’t mattered.

Danielle Hunter hasn’t missed a beat

Griffen has gotten a lot of the attention and praise so far this season and rightfully so. He’s greatly exceeded expectations. When healthy, everyone expects Danielle Hunter to dominate his competition. So when he does, it isn’t news. But we’re still talking about a guy who missed all of 2020 with a serious neck injury. That isn’t the part of your body you want to ignore, especially if you smash head-first into people for a living.

But as seen in the PFF grades above, Hunter has regained his status as a top-10 defensive end.

Hunter’s six sacks through six games, even in a 16 game season, is pacing to beat his career high of 14.5, which he has accomplished twice. Getting Hunter back as pretty much the same player was the best case scenario on that side of the line. A 100% Danielle Hunter and vintage Everson Griffen is way more than we could have asked for.

Better than ever?

If Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen continue on their current tear, they’d total just under 30 sacks in the league’s first 17-game season. That would outpace their previous single-season high of 22.5 combined sacks.

The only question now is how long will this keep up? Can Danielle Hunter continue his 16 sack pace? How long can Everson Griffen play like he’s in his prime? At 33 years old, will he eventually run out of steam given his current usage?

With the Minnesota Vikings upcoming gauntlet of a schedule, Griffen, Hunter and the rest of the defense will have to be at their best.

Cooper Carlson | Minnesota Sports Fan