Are We Sure Cameron Dantzler Needs To Be Replaced?

Photo Credit: Matt Blewett (USA TODAY Sports)

With the 42nd-overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah went to work on retooling a secondary that ranked 28th in pass defense last season. Former Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth provides long-term stability for the room, especially with Patrick Peterson entering his age-32 season on another one-year contract in purple.

Depending on who you ask, Booth could represent much more in 2022 than just a depth piece for when Peterson moves on. Coming off his true junior season with the Tigers, Booth enters the NFL with five career interceptions and was a former five-star recruit, according to both Rivals and 247 Sports. After playing a prominent role for one of the marquee programs in all of college football, is Booth ready to step into an immediate starting role alongside the potential future Hall of Famer Peterson?

With last season’s buzzer-beating defeat at Ford Field against the Detroit Lions fresh in the minds of Skoldiers and draft prognosticators, Cameron Dantzler has spent the offseason serving as the scapegoat for Minnesota’s secondary. Despite being labeled as someone who doesn’t check out as a starting-caliber corner in the NFL, Dantzler’s coverage stats were extremely impressive last season.

In just his second year in the league, Dantzler led all NFL cornerbacks in yards per target at 4.7 and allowed a rather impressive 74.7 passer rating when targeted. But for a player who started only seven games last season, how legitimate are those stats? After all, that final play in early December against the Motor City Kitties tells a different story about Dantzler’s prowess in coverage.

Let’s dive a little deeper into Dantzler’s production from last season, particularly when he started and/or played over 90% of snaps. We’ll take a look at not only who he covered, but how he fared in those contests. In total, Dantzler had eight such occurrences in 2021.

  • Week 4 vs. Cleveland (92% of snaps)
  • Week 8 vs. Dallas (100% of snaps)
  • Week 9 @ Baltimore (98% of snaps)
  • Week 10 @ Los Angeles Chargers (97% of snaps)
  • Week 13 @ Detroit (100% of snaps)
  • Week 15 @ Chicago (100% of snaps)
  • Week 16 vs. Los Angeles Rams (100% of snaps)
  • Week 18 vs. Chicago (99% of snaps)

In Dantzler’s first game of meaningful snaps last season against Cleveland, he allowed just one reception for 12 yards to Rashard Higgins and shut out Odell Beckham Jr. on three targets. Dantzler forced an elite 39.6 passer rating when targeted on the day. Tough to ask for anything more than that.

Even though he went above and beyond in coverage against the Browns, Dantzler had to wait four weeks until he was given his first opportunity in Minnesota’s starting lineup against the Dallas Cowboys. Going against Cooper Rush in his first career NFL start, Dantzler held up rather well against both Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. Dantzler was targeted 10 times and allowed six receptions for 60 yards. Unfortunately, Cooper beat Dantzler for the game-winning touchdown on the Cowboys’ final drive. That touchdown saw Dantzler’s passer rating when targeted jump to 100.6 on the night.

The following week in Baltimore, Dantzler surrendered another triple-digit passer rating when targeted at 100.7. However, it was only for five receptions and 45 yards on six targets. Dantzler never matched up against Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in the affair, as Kris Boyd drew the assignment for much of the afternoon.

In SoFi Stadium against Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers, Dantzler impressed with a 56.2 passer rating when targeted. He was the least-targeted corner on the day. Herbert instead decided to attack both Mackensie Alexander and Bashaud Breeland a combined 15 times. Dantzler allowed just three receptions for 23 yards on four targets against Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

Circling back on Dantzler’s Detroit alleged debacle in Week 13: With the Vikings trailing midway through the fourth and the Lions in enemy territory, Dantzler came up big with a clutch interception on third down.

While even Dantzler would likely admit that he played with poor technique and too much cushion on the final play, he still had an impressive game as a whole, forcing a 68.7 passer rating when targeted. Unfortunately for Dantzler, his four receptions for 32 yards allowed on seven targets will forever be clouded by that final play. PS, I used Pro Football Reference’s advanced stats for this contest, as Pro Football Focus had a few errors in their coverage matchups for Dantzler this particular game. (Notice that PFF didn’t dock Dantzler for the touchdown allowed against St. Brown.)

On the Monday night stage against the Chicago Bears in Week 15, Dantzler was again the least-targeted corner with five looks. Rookie Justin Fields instead went after Alexander and Peterson seven times apiece. Dantzler held Chicago’s anemic offense to just 36 yards on three receptions and an 81.9 passer rating when targeted.

Against the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, Dantzler allowed his third and final touchdown of the season — this time courtesy of a filthy out-route in the back of the end zone by Odell Beckham Jr.

Outside of OBJ getting the upper hand on that particular play, Dantzler held the Rams to just three receptions, 19 yards, and the lone touchdown on eight targets. That equates to an above-average 85.4 passer rating when targeted on the day. Not too shabby against the 2021 champs.

In Mike Zimmer’s finale at US Bank Stadium against the Bears in Week 18, Dantzler was the most-targeted corner for the Vikings on the day. He drew 11 looks and held Chicago to just 38 yards on six receptions and no touchdowns, which was good for a 61.9 passer rating when targeted.

When combining Dantzler’s production in the eight games where he played 90% or more snaps, his numbers are as follows:

  • 55 targets
  • 31 receptions
  • 265 yards
  • 3 touchdowns
  • 1 interception
  • 4.8 yards/target (Dantzler led NFL corners with 4.7 yards/target on the year)
  • 79.7 passer rating when targeted

When looking at Dantzler’s coverage stats in the eight games where he was prominently featured, it’s apparent that he’s being incorrectly labeled as someone that the Vikings had to desperately replace through the draft process. And although Adofo-Mensah spent an early Day 2 pick on Booth, it’ll be mighty hard for Ed Donatell and Mike Pettine to keep Dantzler off the field in 2022 if he can replicate this level of production in his third year as a pro.

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