The Vikings have a lot of not-so-secret superstars on the team, like Justin Jefferson, who took the league by storm in his first two seasons, or Dalvin Cook, who is annually among the most productive and dynamic runners in the league. However, the franchise has a secret superstar. Sam Monson from PFF chose one player from each team and labeled him as such.
Interesting players on the list include the Packers’ offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins. He was a second-round pick in 2019 and has played every position in the line since. He’s probably the only player in the league who can play center, guard, and tackle at an elite level and is expected to play the right tackle spot for the Packers once he recovers from a torn ACL unless left tackle Bakhtiari isn’t ready.
Another interesting case is Tony Pollard. The Cowboys running back is the backup of star halfback Ezekiel Elliott. However, despite his backup designation, he was the more effective player in 2021. His average of 5.1 yards per carry throughout three seasons, and over 300 carries, show his playmaking ability. Like the Vikings ‘secret superstar,’ he should get more opportunities.
The Vikings’ choice is cornerback Cameron Dantzler. He will enter his third year in the league. The first two seasons have been a mixed bag. He struggled in his rookie campaign just to end it looking like an All-Pro. In 2021, however, he was buried on the depth chart behind veterans Patrick Peterson and Beshaud Breeland.
Peterson played at a solid level, unlike Breeland. He was a disaster at times and got burnt by opposing wideouts. Entire game plans were custom-made to target him. Mike Zimmer still didn’t react by replacing him with Dantzler. In Week 1, Dantzler was inactive, while Breeland did his best against Ja’Marr Chase on his NFL debut but had no chance. The Vikings subsequently lost to the eventual AFC champions. Sam Monson wrote the following about 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.”
Sam Monson | PFF
Dantzler, indeed, played some wonderful football in his first two campaigns. But he struggled at times, especially in a two-minute defense. Fans probably remember the losses against the Seahawks in 2020 and 2021 Lions with last-minute game-winning touchdown passes. To his defense, he is an aggressive man coverage cornerback, and Zimmer’s prevent zone coverage defense at the end of the game didn’t help him.
Dantzler needs to play more consistently. But first, he has to secure a starting job. The battle will most likely be between him and rookie Andrew Booth unless they can both unseat the eight-time Pro Bowler, Patrick Peterson. Escaping Zimmer’s doghouse was the first step to a more confident Dantzler. Confidence is the most important thing for a cornerback. He has to trust his talent to make the play. His PFF grade ranked him about the 20th best player at his position in each of the first two seasons. He can play at a high level, and the new coaching staff hopefully trusts him.
The new defensive system will help him out as well. Ed Donatell, a Vic Fangio disciple, will run a scheme that is more dependent on man coverage. If that’s the case, it’ll help the Vikings’ secret superstar.
One of Dantzler’s weaknesses has always been his thin frame. He’s slowly becoming bigger.
If he became faster while gaining weight, he could be a phenomenal player, and it will be tough for Booth the win the starting job. Dantzler desperately needed a fresh start, and he will get it under new head coach Kevin O´Connell and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt