The Minnesota Vikings host the 1-1 Detroit Lions on Sunday. Minnesota’s defense will have its hands full with a surprisingly lethal offense spearheaded by Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, and a potentially resurgent Jared Goff. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas have this pegged as the highest-scoring matchup in Week 3 at 52.5 points — the same total points as the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins contest on Sunday.
Coming off a nationally-televised beatdown at the expense of the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota’s secondary has some serious questions to answer — along with their offensive counterparts. But today, we’ll focus on the secondary, primarily the unit’s most polarizing player.
The person who usually wears the polarization crown around here is none other than Kirk Cousins. But third-year cornerback Cameron Dantzler has been someone that Skoldiers can’t seem to agree on almost from the moment he joined the team as a third-round draft pick in 2020. His struggles as a rookie were similar to former first-round pick Jeff Gladney. However, Dantzler took a considerable leap forward last season in Year 2 when he led all NFL cornerbacks in yards per target allowed at 4.7.
Despite the Year 2 improvement, Vikings fans — and a vast majority of the football world — clamored for Minnesota to spend its first-round pick in the 2022 draft on a cornerback to potentially replace Dantzler in the starting lineup. In the days leading up to the draft, Paul Charchian joined Cy Amundson and me on an episode of The Cy Amundson Show. In the podcast episode, Charchian said that Dantzler wasn’t an NFL-caliber player and that the Vikings needed to address the cornerback position in the draft.
For the folks who share the same beliefs as Charchian regarding Dantzler’s effectiveness, what more could you possibly ask for out of a corner who not only led all NFL corners in yards per target allowed but also held opponents to a 74.7 passer rating when targeted? If that isn’t high-level cornerback play, then I’m stumped.
Throughout the offseason, I wrote multiple pieces to provide some clarity on Dantzler and his strong play. But after Monday night’s shellacking in Philadelphia, the Dantzler discontent has reappeared among the fanbase.
Depending on which site you refer to, the story on Dantzler’s 2022 season thus far is considerably different. According to Pro Football Reference, Dantzler’s stats are as follows:
- 14 targets
- 11 completions
- 91 yards
- 6.5 yards per target
- 0 touchdowns
- 93.7 passer rating allowed
Not exactly the stellar play that was on display throughout last season.
But if you just so happen to be a Pro Football Focus truther, here’s how they’ve tracked Dantzler after two games:
- 14 targets
- 10 completions
- 110 yards
- 7.9 yards per target
- 1 touchdown
- 118.2 passer rating allowed
Yowza. Regardless of which site holds that special place in your football heart, Dantzler isn’t off to the start that Vikings fans were hoping for. And many of these folks appear to be justified in their desire to have the third-year cornerback delegated to a reserve role.
The verdict on Dantzler didn’t do him any favors on Thursday when defensive coordinator Ed Donatell met with the media. What appeared to be a mishap by safety Camryn Bynum — when he jumped the underneath route on Philadelphia’s tight end — Donatell confirmed that Dantzler was responsible for Quez Watkins when he got behind Minnesota’s secondary for a 53-yard score in the second quarter on Monday night.
Unfortunately for Dantzler, he plays a position where he’ll usually only get noticed by the naked eye when mistakes are made — unless he’s coming down with interceptions. Just like when Amon-Ra St. Brown scored the game-winning touchdown on him in Week 13 last year.
Would we be having a different conversation this early in the year about Patrick Peterson if Christian Watson doesn’t drop that 75-yard touchdown on Minnesota’s first defensive play to start the season against the Green Bay Packers? More than likely. But that’s life in the NFL, which happens to be code for Not For Long.
According to PFF, here’s how Dantzler fared against St. Brown last season.
Week 13 at Detroit (Dantzler played 100% of the defensive snaps):
Notice how PFF didn’t dock Dantzler for St. Brown’s game-winning touchdown at the buzzer? Just a reminder, it’s important to take PFF’s data with a grain of salt.
Week 5 vs. Detroit: Dantzler did not play.
Despite the considerable strides he made last season, this week’s matchup against St. Brown and Detroit has all the makings of a critical moment for Dantzler’s career. The Vikings need a serious and immediate response from their defensive backfield after getting embarrassed on Monday night. If St. Brown or D.J. Chark succeed in their matchups against Dantzler, the noise surrounding the third-year corner will only get louder. But if Dantzler goes unnoticed — which is a good thing for cornerbacks — then hopefully, it can lead to another step forward in his young career.
Make no mistake about it, cornerbacks are required to have short memories. Just ask All-Pro Jalen Ramsey. Since Week 18 last season against the San Francisco 49ers, he allowed touchdowns in four of six games for the Rams. That includes the divisional round to Mike Evans, the Super Bowl to Tee Higgins, and 2022’s season opener on Thursday night to Stefon Diggs.
Will Dantzler respond in a big way against the Lions after Monday night’s porous performance? Or will his many detractors continue to bang the drum for the Vikings to replace him?
Regardless of how it shakes out, we’ll learn a lot about Minnesota’s third-year cornerback in Week 3.