The Vikings lost their top three cornerbacks in the 2020 offseason. Longtime starting outside cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes and nickel cornerback Mackensie Alexander all left in free agency.
Minnesota desperately needed new cornerback talent. 2018 first-rounder Mike Hughes was on the roster, and in the first round in 2020, former general manager Rick Spielman selected Jeff Gladney, another cornerback.
He doubled down in the third round and picked Cameron Dantzler. Gladney and Hughes ultimately didn’t work out in Minnesota for different reasons. Dantzler, however, is still on the team. So far, he’s had an up-and-down career.
In his rookie year, he instantly started after a great training camp. Adam Thielen was immediately impressed whenever he had to line up against the rookie. Dantzler’s first NFL season was a mixed bag. At times, he looked like a true number one lockdown cornerback. At other times he looked like a backup, at best. Overall, he had a pretty good season. Especially the five-game stretch after returning from a concussion was promising.
In the following season, the expectations were once again high for the young defender. The Vikings signed Patrick Peterson to handle the cornerback duties on one side. But they didn’t stop there. They also brought in Beshaud Breeland. For inexplicable reasons, he beat out Dantzler for the other starting job. From game one on, he played poorly. During the same game, Dantzler was inactive, once again, for unknown and inexplicable reasons. He landed in Zimmer’s doghouse.
However, he didn’t give up. He watched, week after week, Breeland getting beaten badly. When Peterson missed time because of a leg injury, Dantzler was ready and played well, just like after the departure of Breeland in his place. Still, Zimmer’s doghouse robbed him of his confidence. Despite all the trouble, he was PFF’s best-graded Vikings CB, and NFLNextGenStats ranked him in the top 10 of cover players.
The regime changed, Zimmer lost his job, and the Vikings brought in the new head coach, Kevin O’Connell, and a new defensive coordinator, Ed Donatell. Dantzler gets a new chance.
The new people in charge re-signed Peterson. Once again, Peterson isn’t the only competition for Dantzler, as they also drafted Andrew Booth Jr in the second round. Booth was a first-round talent but dropped into the second round because of injury problems. Now, all three fight for the two starting jobs, even though Peterson seems to have one already locked up.
Booth, meanwhile, came to camp and is impressive. He shows his completive nature in every play, as he regularly jaws at opponents. And he isn’t scared of anyone. He has the same confidence when he goes up against Justin Jefferson. The important part is that he backs his talking up with solid play.
Dantzler faces tough competition. He is the veteran in the battle with the rookie, so he gets the first opportunity to simply win the job. He is no longer in the Zimmer ‘doghouse,’ which helps him regain his confidence.
The swagger, or confidence, is one of the essential parts of any cornerback’s game. They line up against the best of the best and can’t hesitate. Once a cornerback hesitates, he loses the rep and potentially allows a catch or even a big play. A confident cornerback, however, makes plays on the ball and is a tough matchup for any receiver.
Dantzler gained weight in the offseason, just like he did last offseason. He’s at a point now where his low weight is no longer a problem.
Dantzler also recently said that he got faster, which was one of his biggest weaknesses. Before the start of his third NFL season, the Vikings cornerback got his swagger back and his body in great shape. He has to fight to keep his starting spot over Andrew Booth, but so far, he hasn’t done anything to lose it.
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