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Most NFL Draft prospects carry some sort of red flag: Size, production, age, injuries, character, etc. Cameron Dantzler‘s is speed, and in conjunction with speed: His weight (or lack thereof). The Vikings are willing to overlook those concerns in exchange for Dantzler’s length, production and attitude.
Dantzler was Piece No. 2 of the Minnesota Vikings’ secondary makeover, joining Jeff Gladney as the team’s cornerback tandem of the future. Chosen No. 89 overall, Dantzler likely fell into the third round because of his alarming 4.64 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, which clocks in higher than a 188-pound cornerback should be running. The run was only one-hundredth of a second better than the combine-worst 4.65, though Dantzler attributed the poor run to a quad injury.
The 21-year-old sent teams a recording of an allegedly faster 40 time, though the 4.38 claimed by Dantzler’s camp has been disputed by pundits. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told reporters that Dantzler’s second run was faster than 4.64 but didn’t attach a number to it. Minnesota has always valued speed at the cornerback position — last year’s starters Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander all ran a sub-4.50. Considering the red flags about Dantzler’s speed, the Vikings clearly are fond of the rest of Dantzler’s profile.
“I think the priority is — Zim says it the best — don’t let the receiver catch the ball,” Spielman said Friday night on a conference call. “He’s a young kid that’s still maturing and growing into his body, but he has such unique length, and the athleticism that goes along with that length gives him a chance to be a really good corner in this league.”
The Vikings always merge college tape with measurables and in-person communication when making their final judgments on a prospect. At 6’2″, Dantzler did nothing but shut down receivers in college, including LSU’s Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase. In 2019, the Vikings took a liking to Garrett Bradbury after seeing he could hold his own against the Clemson Tigers’ defensive line that was littered with NFL talent. The same applied to Dantzler as they used his tape against the champion LSU Tigers as a litmus test. Dantzler passed with flying colors, holding Chase to one reception.
“Coach, he put me up to the challenge, and I accepted,” Dantzler told Twin Cities reporters. “I just studied what [Chase] likes to do – some of his strengths, some of his weaknesses – throughout the week, and I just tried to critique the things he doesn’t like to do. He doesn’t like when you’re really physical with him; he just tries to bully most of the time. So I just studied that and brought that into the game and held my own that game, and I thought I did a great job against him.”
Joe Burrow vs everyone else in 2019:
95.2 overall grade
143.2 passer rating
— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) April 28, 2020
Per Pro Football Focus, Dantzler allowed no higher than a 57.0 passer rating in any of his three seasons, permitting only one touchdown in his career while intercepting five passes and breaking up 20. Dantzler said he tries to emulate Richard Sherman and Jalen Ramsey, two of the taller star corners in the NFL — not just in their technique but in their confidence.
“You’ve gotta be confident and have that swagger,” Dantzler said. “And those guys have that confidence and swagger at the corner position. I just try to critique and try to match my game to how they do theirs. … [Mike Zimmer] loves his cornerbacks big, fast and nasty.”
Dantzler still has a ways to go before fulfilling all three of those criteria. The third-round pick is tall but lacks physicality in the run game. His speed is up for debate. But the nastiness is an intangible that drew Zimmer not only to Dantzler but also to Gladney in the first round. It’s a quality that can go a long ways with a little coaching. Waynes, for instance, who plays at the same weight as Dantzler, led the league in run stops in 2017.
Waynes’ lankiness was acceptable, though, because of his blazing 4.31 speed. Dantzler will have to account for what he lacks in speed with technique and tenacity.
“Tough love is the best love,” Dantzler said, “so I’m looking forward to being coached by Coach Mike Zimmer.”