EAGAN, Minn. — When the Vikings selected Cameron Dantzler in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, they had done plenty of homework on the cornerback.
Yes, the Vikings knew about his subpar time of 4.64 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine. But they also knew he had bounced back to run at 4.38 in early April at Mississippi State's pro day.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer recently recalled what the organization liked about Dantzler when they made him the 89th overall selection.
"He just covered well. The only thing we didn't like about him was his 40 time at the combine," Zimmer said. "We thought he was a good player; he went out there and played well. Then when he ran a good time at his pro day, we got more intrigued by him.
"But, you know, he's got great length and size, long arms," Zimmer added. "He's been a pleasant surprise as far as the discipline that he plays with and understanding what we're trying to do concept-wise, whether it be technique or zone coverage or man-to-man."
There's no doubt that those attributes have shown up in the early part of Verizon Vikings Training Camp, and that Dantzler has turned heads as a rookie.
He made a pair of plays last week — on back-to-back days — that drew the praise of teammates and coaches.
First, Dantzler hung with Pro-Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen on a deep route and batted away a pass from Kirk Cousins.
Dantzler explained the play on a recent videoconference with the Twin Cities media.
"[I] did the technique that my coach told me to do and made a great play on the ball," Dantzler said. "Adam is a great veteran receiver, me and him talk almost every day about coverages, what to do and what not to do.
"That's a guy that helps me," Dantzler added. "Since he's on the offensive side of the ball, he helps me a lot with my progression as a young corner."
The next day, on Aug. 18, Dantzler picked off Cousins with great zone coverage. The quarterback saw Bisi Johnson running wide open across the field, but Dantzler dropped back and appeared out of nowhere to snag the interception.
"I have to give the credit to my coaches. They put me in a great position to make a play," Dantzler said. "I just did my job and made a play on the ball. Kirk saw a guy open and me just doing my read, doing my job, doing my one-eleventh and just made a play on the ball."
After the play on Thielen, the wide receiver approached Zimmer and said, “No. 27's going to be really good.”
Dantzler is among a handful of Vikings cornerbacks in the mix for ample playing time, a group that includes Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd and Jeff Gladney.
And while that group has showed off their talent by making plenty of plays so far in camp, those five players also have nine combined starts in the NFL, all of them by Hughes and Hill.
Dantzler said he has felt comfortable in practice so far, but knows his progression must continue as the Vikings are now less than three weeks from the season opener against Green Bay.
"The speed of the game is very fast, way different from college. They have better quarterbacks that can read keys, veteran receivers that run great routes, offensive linemen who are in great shape and they can come out and block the corner," Dantzler said. "Me just getting adjusted to the new game speed has been very exciting for me being out there and being able to run around.
Since we [won't have] preseason [games], we just treat every practice like it's a preseason game," Dantzler added. "We go out there and work out technique and try out best to make it look like a game situation. We just go out there and just do what we have to do."
Dantzler, who is 6-foot-2 and 188 pounds, had plenty of success in college.
He started 22 of 35 games for the Bulldogs, allowing just 36 catches for 459 yards on 568 pass coverage snaps. He tallied five interceptions, along with 108 career tackles, six tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
They key now for Dantzler, said Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson, is to keep stacking those good days on top of one another.
If that happens, Dantzler could be one of many impact rookies for the Vikings in 2020.
"That's exciting," Patterson said of Dantzler's early showings in camp. "Now the key is, 'Can you keep doing it? Can you be consistent?' All of those young corners are working hard and they've all got talent.
"The key now is, 'Can they do it play after play after play?' That's the key in the NFL, to have consistency," Patterson added. "That's what we're working on now, to make sure they're consistent and can do that kind of thing rep after rep."