Detroit Lions, NFC North 2019 preview: Edge defenders

Da'Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Da'Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Minnesota Vikings

Key Returning Players: Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Stephen Weatherly, Hercules Mata’afa

New Additions: None

Key Losses: None

During his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings, head coach Mike Zimmer has routinely boasted one of the most talented defensive fronts in the NFL. 2019 figures to be similar, though the pressure will be on him and some veteran contributors after a disappointing 2018.

Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter have feasted on the Lions’ offensive line over the years. Combined, the two stars have 21.0 sacks in 24 career games against Detroit. Until the Lions find a way to contain at least one of them, the Vikings will likely continue to be near the top of the league in sacks and pressure totals.

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Hunter is one of the brightest young defensive stars in the division, and he may not have even approached his peak yet. A chiseled athlete, he has emerged as one of the most accomplished edge defenders from his 2015 draft class; he was an absolute steal in the third round.

Other edge players that were selected in front of him that year include Vic Beasley by the Atlanta Falcons, Mario Edwards by the Oakland Raiders. and Nate Orchard by the Cleveland Browns. Those players have a combined 42 career sacks, just two more than Hunter has produced by himself in his four seasons.

Hunter has crushed the Lions in his career as well, to the tune of seven sacks and 11 quarterback hits in seven career matchups. He alters offensive game plans on his own, and the Lions need to find a way to contain him in 2019. He was smartly locked up by the Vikings with a five-year deal last June.

Hunter will once again be flanked by the veteran Griffen, who has also ravaged the Lions in recent years. Griffen though, struggled with a troubling mental health episode that contributed to him missing five games in 2018, and his effectiveness and production was limited because of it. By all accounts, Griffen is in a good place approaching training camp, and could be in for a bounce back season.

Second year player Hercules Mata’afa will be one to watch in this group. He played as an undersized lineman in college at Washington State, and was clearly ticketed for an edge role in the NFL. Unfortunately, a knee injury cost him his entire rookie season. He will compete with veteran Stephen Weatherly for snaps behind the Vikings’ two edge stars.