Everyone knew that the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis, loved to draft athletes. He believed it was the coaching staff’s job to mold them into football players. Late in his life, it was comical how much he relied upon the belief—most notably drafting players based on their 40-yard-dash times.
Although Davis took the concept to an extreme, it’s not always a bad idea to take a chance on an athlete. He proved there are instances where it can reap huge rewards, and that could be the case with LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter.
As far as athletes go, there are few better ones in the NFL draft this year. At 6’5” and 252 pounds, Hunter ran a ridiculous 4.57 40-yard dash at the combine and posted an unhuman 6.95-second three-cone drill at his pro day. He was equally explosive in the broad jump and vertical jump, where he leaped 10’10” and 36 ½” respectively.
His 34 ¼” arms and 10 ½” hands are of ideal size, and he has frame to add more weight if needed. He definitely looks the part of a star edge player in the NFL.
Hunter also plays the part on the field by showcasing his special athleticism, albeit without the sack numbers. This is good news for Hunter, as it suggests he’s not just a workout warrior.
While far from a perfect player, Hunter’s athleticism is going to give him a chance in the league if he stays motivated and he lands in a place that will give him time to develop. For a player like Hunter, patience could be key to his NFL success.
A Special Athlete
For a man of his size, the agility Hunter displayed in essentially stepping over and around a cut block like he did against Mississippi State is special. His three-cone time only supports the game video.
Here’s another example of Hunter somehow defeating a cut block with his agility. On this play, he didn’t keep his feet, but quickly recovered and made the tackle.
Hunter can also change direction on a dime and will turn on the jets when necessary. Here, Hunter reads the screen on the opposite side of the field, reverses course and nearly chases down a play.
This kind of skill will come in handy if a team decides to drop Hunter into coverage at the pro level. When he naturally reads and reacts, he’s fast and explosive. That’s a great sign for his pro prospects.
Here’s another example of Hunter's remarkable athleticism. On this play, Hunter works his way inside toward the quarterback, ends up stepping over a second blocker, but somehow manages to plant and lunge back toward the quarterback as he reversed field.
He doesn’t make the play, but with proper coaching, he can put himself into better position to do so. Hunter has been getting by on athleticism, but he just doesn’t understand how to use it to win consistently at the line of scrimmage yet.
Although Hunter seems to be a high motor player with fast-twitch athleticism, he’s shockingly slow off the ball. Hunter is routinely the last defender out of his stance, which makes it even harder for him to win quickly off the line.
Pass-rushers must get off the ball quickly in the NFL because offensive linemen are better about gaining position and winning blocks if defenders are slow to react. Hunter has all the other traits to become a great pass-rusher, but if he can’t get off the ball faster, he’s going to be limited at the pro level.
It’s a bit puzzling because he seems to read and react quickly to what’s going on during the play. It’s possible standing Hunter up could solve the issue, but NFL teams are going to have to decide for themselves if it’s a correctable issue.
Most teams will believe they can teach Hunter to fire off the line low and convert speed to power, to use his hands to rip and swim past blockers and use his agility to dip underneath slow-footed offensive tackles. If Hunter is coachable and his launch is correctable, teams will be willing to take a chance simply based on his athleticism.
When Hunter does get off the ball quickly, blockers have trouble even getting their hands on him. Hunter will be able to bend the edge at the pro level, provided he can do it consistently, which will also setup inside moves such as this one.
Hunter’s length makes this kind of move look easy, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement in terms of technique. Many of his moves will be set up by his ability to bend the edge, but he needs to use his long arms to win inside more consistently as well. Hunter tries too often to overpower blockers when he can simply go around them.
Hunter has the kind of special athletic traits that teams are looking for, but he’s raw. He will need time with a quality defensive line coach to learn how to use his amazing athletic abilities to become an impact player.
It’s worth noting that Hunter has less than a full season of starting experience. That compounds the risk because the sample is smaller, but he may also get better with more opportunities.
Since Hunter isn’t likely going to be his next team’s top pick, there won’t be as much pressure to perform right away as there would be if he were a first-round pick. It should buy him time to improve his technique and unlock his athletic gifts. NFL.com compared him to another LSU pass-rusher in Barkevious Mingo, who didn’t make the instant impact in the NFL that many expected but is starting to come around.
Drafting Hunter is a significant risk because the team that does so will be relying on significant development, but for a patient team, it could really pay off. A team that expects too much from Hunter early on will surely be disappointed.