Selected in the third round of the 2020 draft out of Mississippi State, Dantzler closed his rookie season playing at a Pro Bowl level but landed in Mike Zimmer’s dog house in his sophomore season — not making his first start of the 2021 season until Week 7.
Dantzler’s lack of playing time has led to him flying under the radar entering his third season, giving him the makings of a “secret superstar,” according to Pro Football Focus.
Out of the Doghouse
Pro Football Focus (PFF) lead NFL analyst Sam Monson put together a list of each NFL team’s “secret superstar” on July 27, dubbing Dantzler as the best-kept secret in Minnesota.
“Perennially in Mike Zimmer’s doghouse, Dantzler has been the best-performing Vikings cornerback in recent seasons and, given his youth, the one that would seem to have the most potential going forward,” Monson wrote. “Since entering the league, Dantzler has allowed an 82.5 passer rating into his coverage and surrendered 10.6 yards per catch, with each number improving in Year 2. He has been flagged for only one penalty and has eight pass breakups to go along with three picks across 771 coverage snaps. ”
Monson’s assessment aligns with Dantzler’s 73.8 PFF grade in 2021, which was the 15th best grade among cornerbacks that played at least 50% of the most snaps by a cornerback this season.
However, Dantzler had his growing pains last season, being benched twice in the first three weeks in the shadow of Bashaud Breeland.
“It was quite a surprise, but I feel like that humbled me and made me hungry,” Dantzler said last September. “So I just came to practice each and every day and worked harder, so that won’t ever happen again.”
He’s carried that hunger into the offseason, putting on significant muscle mass.
Nicknamed “The Needle” from high school, Dantzler entered the NFL at 6-foot-2, 182 pounds. His thin frame has been a weakness since his rookie year — but as the soon-to-be 24-year-old has matured, he’s gradually put muscle and is now 191 pounds.
“I’ve gained weight and I’m stronger, and I’m faster,” Dantzler said, per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “I’m getting my body right. I used the offseason to get better. I’ve got a nutritionist. I’m lifting weights.”
With his growth and a fresh start in a new defense, Dantzler seems prepared to take the next step in his career.
However, that won’t be given with burgeoning competition at training camp this summer.
Second-round rookie cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. has been turning heads at training camp, but while Booth has been the biggest surprise, Dantzler hasn’t backed down from competition after seeing him lose his starting role last season to Breeland.
“I embrace it, he embrace it. We very excited to compete versus each other, Dantzler said of Booth after training camp on July 28. “I’m all about the team. It was never personal when we drafted him, I was very excited. He brings that fire, that juice, to the secondary — something that we really need. I help him out when he need help, there’s no hard feelings. I love him just like a little brother.”
Dantzler has been taking first-team reps so far in training camp, while Booth has shined on the second-team defense.
Dantzler Dedicates Season to Late Teammate
In memory of former Vikings cornerback Jeff Gladney, who died in a car accident in May, Dantzler has dedicated his season to his old teammate.
Dantzler and Gladney were drafted the same year and both started as rookies.
“Letter to my brother.. This season for you JG, thru it all I’m gone keep you in mind and fight for you just like you would want me too💚 I know how bad u wanted to be back out there so hey it’s our first day bro💚🤞🏽 Love and miss you bro,” Dantzler wrote in a photo caption on his Instagram.