Potentially lost amid the offseason news cycle of OTA’s, the loss of Dalvin Cook, a potential Danielle Hunter trade, and Justin Jefferson’s contact watch was the news that CB Cameron Dantzler was recently released by the Washington Commanders. He’s now been released twice in less than three months which begs the question: what happened?
Originally a third-round pick by the Vikings out of Mississippi State, Dantzler played with unusal toughness for a startlingly thin cornerback prospect. Owning a nickname like “the Needle,” his weight played into his draft stock falling, with NFL analyst Lance Zierlein noting “stringy build is who he is,” but his tape spoke to an aggressive play style and above average skills in press coverage.
Despite previous Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s ambivalence towards playing rookies, Dantzler shined in his first NFL season. The Mississippi State product racked up 46 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 4 pass break-ups, and 2 interceptions in 11 games. For those that care about PFF scores, he ranked well at 20th out of 70 corners playing at least 600 snaps. His rookie year was, unfortunately, at the beginning of the Vikings’ defensive decline, but Cam Dantzler was a reason to be optimistic for the future and a quick turnaround.
The next season featured far more snaps for Dantzler. He only played in 14 games due to injury, but he still managed 8 break-ups and an interception. His play was inconsistent, giving up a few large chunk plays every few games, but that’s to be expected with a growing CB in an increasingly pass-heavy league.
Dantzler was widely expected to be a starting CB alongside longtime veteran and future hall of famer Patrick Peterson for the 2022 season. PFF’s Sam Monson, declared him the Vikings’ “secret superstar,” citing his premier play and long-term potential. Unfortunately, the expectations he worked-up did not result the same on-field results. The Vikings defense dragged itself across the offseason finish line as the 31st ranked defense, and it was the blackeye during a surprising 13-4 season under first year coach Kevin O’Connell.
Pre-draft concerns about his build seemingly came to fruition as he missed even more playing time, largely due to an ankle injury, but even when he did see game action his play became more erratic. He managed to secure a Vikings victory in October against the rival Bears with an incredible strip-fumble of former-Vikings Ihmir Smith-Marsette, but he also allowed a passer rating of 100.4 and 8.4 yards per attempt.
Cam called GAME 😤😤
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) October 9, 2022
The defensive scheme from now-gone DC Ed Donatell is surely to blame for a large part of the team’s defensive failings and not setting up players for success, but Dantzler still couldn’t consistently play-up to the expectations many of the fans and staff had for him. The result? He was cut early in the offseason on March 10, leaving the Vikings with (at the time) four corners on the roster, signaling how little faith the team’s coaches had in his play long-term.
Despite being picked-up by Washington very quickly thereafter, he has already been cut before June after only two weeks of OTAs. Cam just signed with Super Bowl hopeful and the equally oft-heartbroken Buffalo Bills, a team with great defensive talent and a good system. He proved he has the capabilities to be an excellent corner, but he also hasn’t ever done it consistently. Many of us are still wondering how a fan-favorite starting player with seemingly huge upside fell-off so quickly.
It’s a disappointment that a potential franchise cornerstone didn’t pan out, but all we can do is hope that the rest of the Vikings’ revamped secondary performs more admirably after moving on. Minnesota’s newly drafted cornerback Mekhi Blackmon also has a smaller frame (he weighs under 180lbs) but hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself for the smaller statured, aggressive third round pick.