Franchise Player is a term used to identify a certain player while also referring to a particular team. Most popularly used for quarterbacks, as you routinely hear many football minds refer to a player as a “franchise QB”, the franchise player is not only symbolic of the organization, but they are considered a piece that you can build a team around.
When you think of this type of player, they are usually elite or highly ranked around the league. Usually a top-5 player at their position, the most common names that come to mind are Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Outside of QBs, some face of the franchise players are Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown and Denver Broncos edge rusher Von Miller.
Right now, for the Minnesota Vikings, who is that particular player? It is a toss up. You could say Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith or Xavier Rhodes, but all seem to be on the outskirts as far as elite names around the NFL, for various reasons.
The team seems to make Griffen the most visible among the three, but there still is not a clear defined answer. For now though, it seems as if the team doesn’t have a clear franchise player. This could quickly change though with an unexpected name.
Back in 2015, the clear highlights of the Vikings draft on many networks were the headliner names of Trae Waynes and Eric Kendricks. The team was even praised for getting what was believed at the time, steals with the fourth and fifth-round selections of T.J. Clemmings and Stefon Diggs.
Little did many know, one of the least talked about players would prove to shine the most. With the 88th overall pick, the Vikings selected LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter. Far from a recognizable name to the most casual NFL fan and periodic draft enthusiasts.
Ironically, most fans did not even know how to properly pronounce Hunter’s first name. “Why would we draft a player with a female first name” is what some fans even said. Improperly pronouncing it “Dan-yell”, Hunter quickly quieted his critics and made a name for himself early on in his rookie season.
Although only 20 years-old when drafted, scouts were very hesitant about Hunter’s potential due to how raw he was.
“Relies heavily on his athleticism and motor over skill and instincts. Pass-rush production doesn’t match the traits. Played 80 percent of the defensive snaps in 2014, managing just 1.5 sacks. Doesn’t have the up-field burst and bend to turn the corner. Considered a thinker as a pass rusher rather than a naturally instinctive reactor. Must show he can effectively counter as a pass rusher. Has winning power in hands, but inconsistent with how he uses them against run and pass. Scouts want to see more competitive nastiness from him.”
– Lance Zeirlen (NFL Network)
Only registering 4.5 sacks in his collegiate career, there were serious questions about if we would ever see Hunter at his peak.
Repeatedly hearing that the edge rusher had all of the talent in the world and eye-popping physique, but it would take some time for him to develop the proper tools in order to be an NFL contributor.
Hunter could not have landed in a better situation than to work with legendary defensive line coach Andre Patterson. Known for the development and his uncanny abilities to unlock the potential of players, Patterson now had a new project on his hands in Hunter.
The former Tiger was essentially a big ball of clay that Patterson had the opportunity to mold.
Fast forward to 2017. Hunter is now considered one of the best up-and-coming edge rushers in all of the league. Still just 22 years-old, Hunter already has collected 18.5 sacks in his young career.
Shawne Merriman, Jason Pierre-Paul and Terrell Suggs are the only defensive ends to register more sacks than Hunter at this point in their careers.
An amazing stat, all of the players listed above had started at-least 10 games before they turned 23 years-old. Hunter has just one start under his belt, which came in his rookie season (2015) vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.
With Adrian Peterson’s departure to the New Orleans Saints, a young roster and not many clear veteran leaders at this point, the franchise seems to be patiently waiting for one of their young core players to emerge as the face of the franchise player.
There seems to be many viable candidates. Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes are the two most popular names, but when mentioning a player in the same breathe as a franchise, it must automatically be the first name that pops into fans heads.
Right now, that’s not Hunter. With another season of similar or even better production, he can put his name into elite company around the league and become that cornerstone piece that the team is searching for.
After only playing in 57% of the teams defensive snaps last season, Hunter enters his third-season as a full-time starter for the first time ever. Without question a huge test for him as he has mostly been subbed in for certain packages or on 3rd -and-long situations.
Transitioning from a situational rusher to an every down player will be an adjustment for Hunter, but so was being a 20-year-old rookie.
Production isn’t the only part of being a face of the franchise player though. Off the field image, charisma and swagger are the other key components that are factored into the equation. Hunter checks all of the boxes in that facet.
Jared Allen is the last elite edge rusher the team has had. Danielle Hunter can enter his name into special company if the arrow keeps pointing upward and his production continuously increases.
With another successful season, he has the chance to be the face of the Minnesota Vikings, not only for the present, but for the long-term future as well.