With the 89th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Vikings took CB Cameron Dantzler out of Mississippi State. The team desperately needed to add CB help in the draft, and did so, adding Dantzler on the second day to compliment first round pick Jeff Gladney.
With Gladney (5’10”) and 2018 first round pick Mike Hughes (also 5’10”) penciled in as starters, the Vikings needed a third player with size, and Dantzler provides that with his 6’2″ frame.
In college, Dantzler faced some of the best competition possible. Playing in the SEC West, he had to face both Alabama and LSU once a year, and those two programs had two QBs go in the top 5 this season, and might end up with 6 combined first round receivers in the 2020 and 2021 drafts. Dantzler performed admirably against that competition, and allowed a passer rating of just 57 in his final season.
Despite good tape and college production, Dantzler had a challenging pre-draft process. While he is 6’2″, he came into college at just 165 lbs, and reportedly struggled to put on weight. At the Combine, he weighed in at just 188 lbs, which is 29th percentile for CBs, and had the highest body fat percentage of any CB at the Combine. It was pretty clear he put on bad weight for the Combine, and his 40 time suffered because of it, as he ran a 4.64. It should be noted that Dantzler supposedly injured his hamstring during the 40 (he ran a second 40, had an equally bad time, and then didn’t do other drills) His agent put out a video after his Pro Day of him running a 4.38, but after further analysis most people agreed that the time on that run was somewhere in the 4.5s. Overall it’s just confusing, and unclear what Dantzler’s true speed is.
As mentioned above, Dantzler clearly played at under the 188 he weight in at in Indianapolis. He likely played in the 170s. At 6’2″, that’s strange and he has a very thin frame. He was nicknamed “the Needle” in high school because he was skinny but hit hard. This could lead to durability issues, and he missed games in 2019 due to injury.
There are a lot of questions around Dantzler, and the best way to answer them is to look at the tape.
Speed was the biggest question surrounding Dantzler’s game, so it makes sense to look at how he did against vertical routes first. Dantzler played boundary corner at Mississippi State, and since LSU aligned Biletnikoff winner Ja’marr Chase to the boundary, there are a ton of good reps to watch against Chase below:
Chase is not a burner, but was the best receiver in college football last year and has plenty of speed. In the reps above, Dantzler is easily staying in phase with Chase, and that’s a great sign for his play speed. Despite my questions about his 40 time, I believe that on tape he shows NFL-caliber speed. It’s not going to be elite, but it will be enough.
Dantzler shows the ability to make plays on the ball. The play below is notable for two reasons. First, he clearly has the speed to match Chase deep, and then when he realized the ball is coming he is almost able to make the catch, turning around and getting his hands on the football.
Dantzler intercepted two passes and deflected 8 in 2019, which was good for a ball hawk rate of 24.1%.
Dantzler is a physical player, and that can be seen throughout his matchup with Chase, who was probably the most physically dominant receiver in CFB last year. Dantzler consistently won with phyicality against him, which is a great sign for his ability to translate to the NFL level. The play below shows a great example of this:
Dantzler is a technically sound player when pressing and does not overextend himself or lose track of his opponent when punching. Even when he doesn’t put his hands on the offensive player immediately, he does a great job in soft press. Look at this rep below against Van Jefferson, a second round pick in the 2020 Draft and one of the best route runners in the class:
When cutting inside like Jefferson does on this slant, WRs are trying to get the defender to open up and turn their hips to the sideline. It’s difficult to stay patient, but once a corner has opened their hips they’ve lost the route. Dantzler does a great job of staying patient and is on top of the slant.
Dantzler is active in run support. He can track ball carriers, navigate around blocks, and gets players on the ground. He has good acceleration for click and close speed. Take a look at the plays below:
As alluded to in the introduction, Dantzler’s (lack of) size is his biggest concern right now. He needs to put on weight and until he does he’s going to struggle with play strength. While he is good at navigating around blockers, when an offensive player does get his hands on Dantzler, it’s over. He gets driven back consistently and often gets entirely blocked out of the play.
In the Florida game, the Gators kept attacking him with screens and they consistently resulted in positive plays.
In addition to concerns about his ability in the run/screen game, one of the plays above is on a slant where a receiver is able to box him out. He lacks the strength to be able to knock the ball loose, and also has a length concern. His 30 5/8″ arms are just 23rd percentile for CBs, and a corner with longer arms is able to get in there and knock the ball out.
Effort and Pass Rush
Another positive to take away from Dantzler’s tape is his effort. He is a high energy player who plays to the whistle and is aggressive in run support, even if he has his strength shortcomings. In the two plays below he chases a loose ball even though he is far from the play, and despite being dominated by a blocker on the second play, he eventually rallies to get in on the tackle.
Another interesting aspect of Dantzler’s game is his blitzing. He was used multiple times on corner blitzes and was pretty effective. He shows the ability to navigate through the traffic and find the QB:
Mike Zimmer does a very good job designing blitz packages and may be able to use Dantzler’s ability there.
Cam Dantzler is a technically proficient CB who wins with physicality. I believe he has the speed to survive in the NFL. He anticipates throws and does a good job of turning around and making a play on the ball. He has strong press technique and often wins early in the route. His thin frame is a concern and he gets knocked back easily when blocked. He needs to add weight at the NFL level. Despite his lack of heft, he is active in run support and navigates traffic well to get to ball carriers. He wraps up well and is a sticky tackler. He is a high motor player who plays to the whistle and also performed well when asked to blitz.
The Vikings tend to play sides with their CBs rather than assigning a field and boundary corner. Dantzler profiles as an outside corner in the Vikings’ system, and with shorter corners in Hughes and Gladney as likely starters, Dantzler will be competing with Holton Hill and Kris Boyd for a starting outside corner spot.
Dantzler’s ability in press coverage makes him a clear system fit. He may not be able to see the field until he’s able to add more weight, but a year or two down the road he may become a starter for the team.