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Bleacher Report – Vikings

By taking great athletes, Vikings are swinging for the next Danielle Hunter

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings hang their hat on finding Danielle Hunter.

They selected Hunter in 2014 based on his insane athleticism rather than focusing on his sack statistics at LSU. The 6-foot-6 pass rusher only managed 4.5 sacks in two seasons as a Tiger starter (though he did have 21 tackles for loss), leaving many to question whether he could learn how to sack the quarterback at the NFL level.

You know the rest of the story. In three NFL seasons, Hunter has 25.5 sacks.

Following Day 3 of the NFL draft, GM Rick Spielman used Hunter as his prime example for the team’s philosophy drafting in the mid-to-late rounds.

“We talk about this all the time in the draft meetings, this guy may be a better football player today, but this guy this guy has such a higher ceiling,” Spielman said. “Our coaches are so eager to work with these athletes and to me that’s when you get an opportunity to make a hit on a guy that can be something, the Danielle Hunter’s of the world. I think when we drafted him in the third I don’t know how popular that was because he had one sack coming out. But, he had such great traits and things these coaches love to work with that he’s developed. That’s the philosophy we’ve kind of used as we’ve went through the draft.”

The Vikings look for specific aspects of a player’s athleticism, not just for Combine heroes. For example, with first-round pick Mike Hughes, head coach Mike Zimmer referred to his ability to get in and out of cuts quickly. Hughes was not the fastest 40-yard dash runner, but ranked in the 86th percentile in the 3-cone drill. The website Relative Athletic Scores, which combines size and Combine results to historical success data to form a 0-10 scale, rated Hughes’ athletic profile similar to Richard Sherman.

“[The] theme was, again, sticking with the athletic traits that we’re looking for and relying on this coaching staff to develop a lot of this young talent,” Spielman said. “Because a lot of the traits that they have, you can’t teach, you can’t coach, but you can sure develop them.”

Something to keep in mind while making the Hunter comparison is just how rare he was as an athlete. He registered one of the highest Relative Athletic Scores in history at 9.91, comparable to the likes of Javon Kearse, Shawn Merriman and Mario Williams. In fact, only Myles Garrett, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, his currently higher on the RAS scale than Hunter.

Here is a look at his Combine results in 2014:

Graphic via Mockdraftable

The Vikings did not find anyone quite that high this year, but they were close with one pick. Here is a look at how Spielman’s selections scored on the RAS scale and which NFL stars they compare with athletically. (Of course, they also compare with many players who did not have success).

Tackle, Brian O’Neill

Relative Athletic Score: 9.60

Comparable: Terron Armstead

The only player with a more impressive athletic profile than O’Neill was first-round pick Kolton Miller. Fans drew an immediate comparison with TJ Clemmings, but O’Neill scored much higher on the scale (8.37). Certainly the knock on O’Neill will be that he needs development. The ceiling, however, is players like Armstead, Trent Williams, Taylor Lewan and Lane Johnson.

If any player in this draft turns out to be the 2018 Danielle Hunter, it will be O’Neill.

Defensive tackle, Jalyn Holmes

RAS: 6.81

Comparable: Michael Strahan

The interesting part of Holmes’ score is that he won’t be playing defensive end in the NFL. RAS’s website does not convert from DE to DT, but Mockdraftable does. Here is how Holmes matches up with current NFL defensive tackles:

His most comparable player is Cameron Heyward, a 3-4 defensive end – which essentially turns into a DT.

Tight end, Tyler Conklin

RAS: 7.71

Comparable: Julius Thomas

Conklin has average height and speed for a tight end, but he scored in the 96th percentile in the 60-yard shuttle and 92nd percentile with his vertical jump.

Guard, Colby Gossett

RAS: 7.39

Comparable: Jack Mewhort

For a guy that went to Appalachian State, Gossett put up impressive numbers in two areas: 40 time and bench press. He was well above average in both and has slightly above average height and arm length.

Edge rusher, Ade Aruna

RAS: 8.58

Comparable: Cameron Wake

Aruna ran a freakish 40 and has length at 6-foot-6. Like Hunter, his numbers were unimpressive, though Spielman pointed to more success in 2016 under a different scheme. He is a nice prospect athletically, but doesn’t quite deserve the Hunter comparison. At the Combine, Hunter bench pressed 25 reps, which is above average, while Aruna was in the 11th percentile with only 18 reps. Aruna’s 3-cone drill was also nowhere close to Hunter’s mark.

Bottom line:

With a large number of positions filled by proven NFL players, the Vikings are taking big swings on potential stars rather than taking players who could fill a backup role but have limited upside. This year’s crop has potential with all above average athletes. But very few players are like Hunter. He’s an all-timer.

The post By taking great athletes, Vikings are swinging for the next Danielle Hunter appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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