EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings selected cornerback Cameron Dantzler with the 89th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Friday night.
He was Minnesota's second drafted corner this week, joining first-round selection Jeff Gladney.
Dantzler, a redshirt junior out of Mississippi State, measured 6-foot-2 and 188 pounds. Tabbed as the No. 9 cornerback in this year's class by Pro Football Focus, he allowed a passer rating of just 57.0 last season, which ranked fourth among FBS cornerbacks.
He started 22 of 35 games from 2017-19 for the Bulldogs, including all nine that he played last fall. Dantzler led Mississippi State with 10 passes defensed in 2019. He recorded 40 tackles (31 solo) and two interceptions last season.
Seven of those tackles – and two disrupted passes – came against eventual National Champion LSU.
Dantzler's play in the game caught the eye of Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, who gave his immediate reaction after nabbing him:
"Very excited to add another corner to our mix … a big, tall, corner that is very athletic for his size. The game that stuck out to us the most was the LSU game," Spielman said. "He has all the physical traits we're looking for, and his length really helps him down the field, as well. Just adding depth, especially at a position of need, and we're very excited to get Cameron on board."
Former NFL safety-turned-analyst Louis Riddick also praised Dantzler's performance against the Tigers. Riddick said during the ESPN/NFL Network coverage of the draft that Dantzler was the "only corner all year long" that stressed LSU receiver Ja'Marr Chase at the line of scrimmage.
"And why is that? It's because Dantzler wasn't afraid to attack him, and he got up on him, and he pressed him and he played him physical," Riddick said. "He talked to him down the field – he wouldn't back down from him."
Dantzler held Chase to just 45 yards on five catches, his second-least-productive game of the season.
"This is a long, lanky corner that has a lot of physical range and can really be a problem for people as far as trying to get off the line of scrimmage. He's a guy who's not afraid of the physical side of the game, as well," Riddick said. "He's got the attitude, he's got the confidence, and I need to reemphasize this – Ja'Marr Chase pretty much ran through whatever corner he went up against this year … this was the one that really got up and challenged him and said, 'Uh-uh. You're not doing that to me.' "
Shortly after being drafted, Dantzler met with Twin Cities media members via video conference and was asked about the key to containing Chase back in October.
Dantzler said former Bulldogs Head Coach Joe Moorhead tasked him with covering the receiver.
"Coach put me up to the challenge, and I accepted," Dantzler said. "I just studied what he likes to do – some of his strengths, some of his weaknesses – throughout the week. … He doesn't like when you're really physical with him; he just tries to bully most of the time. So I just studied that and brought that into the game and held my own, and I thought I did a great job against him."
As demonstrated against the Tigers, the 21-year-old may be thin but isn't afraid to be physical.
Dantzler wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with his initials and "The Needle"; when asked about it, he explained the nickname given to him during his time in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas (Louisiana).
"I was always skinny, and when I hit you, it hurt," he explained with a smile.
Spielman called Dantzler an "ideal fit" for Minnesota's defense, and the cornerback told reporters he's looking forward to working with Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who's known across the league as a DB guru – albeit a tough one.
"Tough love is the best love, so I'm looking forward to being coached by Mike Zimmer," Dantzler said. "I know he likes his cornerbacks tall, physical and aggressive, and I'm just ready to show the NFL what I can do."
The Vikings are looking forward to that, too.
Spielman and Company got a chance to watch Dantzler at the NFL Scouting Combine, where his 40-yard dash time of 4.64 seconds raised some questions by critics.
He said the run "just didn't go right" and that he later logged an unofficial time of 4.38.
"I'm know I'm faster than 4.6. I just want to show that at the next level, keep up with some of the top receivers in the league and run toe-to-toe with them," Dantzler said.
Because of travel and public-gathering restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Spielman said that Vikings scouts "guesstimated" a little bit on the time from the third-party video.
"We were able to get a time that I know was faster, just us trying to do it with the circumstances we're dealing with," Spielman said. "It would have been great to go down there and time him in-person, but unfortunately that's not where we're at right now.
"But it gave us a pretty good indication," he added.
Not only does Spielman believe Dantzler has the necessary speed, but he also appreciates his swagger.
It's a mindset Dantzer and Gladney both share, and Spielman emphasized its importance – specifically in the secondary.
"You know, you're going to win some and you're going to lose some," Spielman explained. "But if you have that swagger, if you do give up a play or something and come back and go compete again, I think that's a special personality that we look for in corners."
Dantzler, who has given up just one touchdown over the past two seasons and says he models his game after Richard Sherman and Jalen Ramsey, concurs.
"To play the position of cornerback, you've gotta be confident in what you do," he said. "Just be confident and know your capabilities."