The Minnesota Vikings saw a bevy of rookies step up and make an impact in their first professional seasons. Some were primed to be Day 1 contributors, while others were thrust into playing due to injury.
Justin Jefferson is already considered among the elite wide receivers in the league, but another rookie is being looked upon to have a breakout sophomore campaign in 2021.
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Cameron Dantzler Named Vikings’ Breakout Player of 2021
Cornerback and 2020 third-round pick Cameron Dantzler was named the Vikings’ 2021 breakout candidate by Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson.
Here’s what Monson wrote on Dantzler:
Only two rookie cornerbacks ended the season with a PFF grade above 70.0, and Cameron Dantzler was one of them. Dantzler’s rookie year wasn’t without growing pains, but he had two single-game PFF coverage grades above 90.0 and two performances in which he allowed five or fewer receiving yards.
He was always a talented playmaker but slid in the draft due to concerns about his size and speed. Dantzler showed in Year 1 he can still cover at a high level, and with a jump in Year 2, he could have a huge season within a defense badly in need of a top cover guy in the secondary.
Dantzler played in 10 games this season, missing a pair of games before the bye week with a rib injury and two more games after suffering a scary concussion injury in Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers.
The Mississippi State product tended to leave his feet to make a play which proved detrimental given his lean frame. Minnesota will look for him to bulk up approaching Year 2, however, he did find his playmaking prowess late in the season.
Dantzler Was the NFL’s Top-Graded Corner From Weeks 10 to 16
When Eric Kendricks suffered a calf injury in pregame warmups against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Dantzler stepped up, intercepting the first pass of his career. He allowed just one catch on seven targets in coverage and also forced and recovered a fumble. Dantzler earned Pro Football Focus’ Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance.
“It was tough because E.K., he’s a big part of our defense,” Dantzler said. “He’s a leader, but we all have that mentality: Next man up. And Todd Davis, he was ready, and he went out and he played really well.”
Through Weeks 10 to 16, Dantzler was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1-graded cornerback and allowed just a 31.1 quarterback rating when targeted, a lower grade than a 39.6 a quarterback would receive if they only spiked the ball every play.
Dantzler showed a drastic improvement from his 134.5 allowed quarterback rating through the first month of the season by becoming much more efficient in coverage. He allowed 13 receptions on 27 targets and broke up two passes in that six-week span before the New Orleans Saints game.
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Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.