There’s been a lot of discussion about ongoing offseason needs in Washington over the past few months. One position group that seems to be well taken care of is cornerback, but Washington added even more depth this offseason. This is a discussion about some of that added depth.
Washington actually picked up two former Mississippi State cornerbacks this offseason, Emmanuel Forbes and Cameron Dantzler. Forbes was, of course, Washington’s first round draft pick. Dantzler was considered one of the best corners in the SEC by the time he left MSU after the 2019 season.
His pre-draft profiles actually describe, physically, a player who sounds a lot like Forbes:
Very long, stringy cornerback with surprising strength and a competitive mindset that had quarterbacks looking for easier battles elsewhere. He looks to suffocate and contest the route from start to finish and does an excellent job of maintaining phase in the vertical plane. His cover style will draw attention from NFL game officials early on, but the athleticism and length should allow him to trust his technique. He won’t give up many explosive plays through the air, but is a high-risk tackler in run support and needs to do a better job of wrapping and finishing. Dantzler can play in a variety of coverages but is a future starter as a confident press-man corner with early starting potential.
Dantzler was ultimately selected in the third round by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2020 draft. Statistically, Dantzler’s rookie season ended up being his best, starting 10 games, with 2 interceptions, 46 tackles, and 3 tackles for a loss, and his future looked bright.
Highest graded Cornerbacks in run support since 2020— PFF NY Jets (@PFF_Jets) March 31, 2022
D.J. Reed: 90.6
Cameron Dantzler: 87.4
Desmond King: 83.0 pic.twitter.com/DnIf4hdFuU
In the lead up to the 2022 season, Dantzler was named a potential “secret superstar” for the Vikings by PFF (they named Kendall Fuller as Washington’s).
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: CB CAMERON DANTZLER
Perennially in Mike Zimmer’s doghouse, Dantzler has been the best-performing Vikings cornerback in recent seasons and, given his youth, the one that would seem to have the most potential going forward. Since entering the league, Dantzler has allowed an 82.5 passer rating into his coverage and surrendered 10.6 yards per catch, with each number improving in Year 2. He has been flagged for only one penalty and has eight pass breakups to go along with three picks across 771 coverage snaps.
At the end of the day, however, Minnesota ended up cutting Dantzler loose after his third season for reasons that - while numerous - seem a little murky, given his draft status. Perhaps, the Vikings were simply prepared to write off a sunk cost.
Dantzler’s three-year tenure in Minnesota can best be described as “up and down.” He played in eleven games his rookie season, starting ten. He had two interceptions, a fumble recovery, and 46 combined tackles. While there were plenty of rookie growing pains, Dantzler showed plenty of flashes of potential.
Many expected Dantzler to take a leap in the past two seasons, but it never really came. It may a bit telling that he seemed to fall out of favor with two different coaching staffs. Dantzler’s playing time under the final year of the Mike Zimmer regime was wildly inconsistent, and he started two fewer games his sophomore season. Injuries marred the second half of his 2022 season under Kevin O’Connell, but even after Dantzler returned, he didn’t see much of the field, playing only 41 defensive snaps after Week 9.
Everything you read about the previous head coach articulated so well by Terence Newman can be seen in the rise of Cameron Dantzler. Culture absolutely matters.— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) October 28, 2022
Admits he was terrified of making mistakes under Zimmer. After popping quad? "I felt abandoned." Then, there was this: pic.twitter.com/Lk3Ci4XmMh
It strikes me as a bit odd though that Minnesota released Dantzler after 2022, given that midway through the season, he seemed to be playing very well. So well, in fact, that writers at the Daily Norseman - the Vikings’ SBNation site - were singing his praises widely.
According to Pro Football Focus rankings (per Chris Tomasson), Dantzler now rates as a top-15 cornerback in the NFL after his performance on Sunday. Now, granted, he hasn’t exactly faced “Three Deep” over the past couple of weeks, but in the NFL you have to cover the guy that’s across from you (or that comes into your zone. . .you know what I mean), and right now Dantzler is doing that at a pretty high level.
Given that Patrick Peterson (who Dantzler reportedly studies film with twice a week) isn’t getting any younger and isn’t signed with the Vikings beyond this season, it would be great if Dantzler could step up and provide that level of play in his place. Peterson is a future Hall of Famer, in all likelihood, and there’s a lot that someone like Dantzler can learn from him. It appears he’s taking every opportunity to do just that.
After his hot start, Dantzler was absolutely abused by DeAndre Hopkins in late October, and then went on injured reserve shortly thereafter, missing four games with a high-ankle sprain incurred against Washington in week 8.
Here is every play Cameron Dantzler was targeted while in coverage vs. DeAndre Hopkins. pic.twitter.com/9KVQzYHFHp— Matt Fries (@FriesFootball) November 2, 2022
Dantzler would play in two more games in the 2022 season - starting one - but only played 41 snaps. He also ended up inactive for two of the final three games of the season, and missed the playoff game against the Giants.
From what I can gather, something doesn’t seem to add up about Dantzler’s waiver by the Vikings. Yes, he had some injury issues, and yes, his play was up and down, but the thing that doesn’t sit well with me is that he seems to have gotten on the wrong side of two different coaching regimes, involving both Mike Zimmer and Kevin O’Connell, who strike me as having fairly different coaching styles. He seemed to show enough talent on the field that - absent other issues - he would have made sense for Minnesota to keep around.
The Vikings lost their two most productive CBs, Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan, to free agency, and yet they were still willing to waive Dantzler. Subsequently, Minnesota grabbed Byron Murphy in free agency - who cost over 3 times what Dantzler would have - and then used their second draft pick on CB Meckhi Blackmon.
Washington claimed Dantzler off waivers in March, and could end up paying him $2.74M this season. For a healthy Dantzler who ends up being a good culture fit, that could potentially be a steal. We’ll have to see whether he gets on better here than he did in Minnesota.
Do you think Cam Dantzler will make Washington’s 53-man roster?
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