Minnesota Vikings: 5 best rookie seasons of the Mike Zimmer era

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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Danielle Hunter #99 of the Minnesota Vikings (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Danielle Hunter #99 of the Minnesota Vikings (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) /

No. 5 – TIE. Danielle Hunter (EDGE, 2015) & Brian O’Neill (OT, 2018)

This was agonizing. It would be felonious to leave either off the top five. So, a compromise was reached. It unfortunately involved a tie. Each teetered on the edge of this list but for different reasons.

The battle here was one’s own perception.

Danielle Hunter was selected in the third round of the 2015 Draft from LSU. This slot sets his performance expectation as moderately high but not too lofty. In his first seasons, he recorded six sacks, thirty-three total tackles, eight tackles for loss, and nine quarterback hits. Pretty average for a defensive end, right? Wrong.

Why? Hunter started one solitary game in 2015. He perpetrated the bulk of this carnage out of the bullpen in thirteen games. Still not sold? Hunter only played thirty-seven percent of all defensive snaps in his rookie season. Vikings lifer Brian Robison played seventy-five percent of the snaps at Hunter’s eventual spot–and recorded one less sack than Danielle.

Brian O’Neill was taken in the second round of the 2018 Draft from the University of Pittsburgh. The working hypothesis was that O’Neill would play a reserve role early on, but that quickly changed when tackle Rashod Hill was injured early in the team’s ill-fated 2018 campaign.

He played 800 snaps in his rookie season. He allowed zero sacks.

The now-third year tackle has since [and quickly] blossomed into the linchpin of the Vikings current offensive line.