With the Raiders all but eliminated from playoff contention, we are highlighting some prospects that Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock may consider in the upcoming draft. You can take a look at all of our previous prospect reports here. Who would you like to see highlighted next week?
While cornerback isn’t exactly the biggest need for the Raiders in the upcoming draft, after the torching that Daryl Worley experienced at the hands of A.J. Brown, it’s starting to look like more of a need than previously anticipated.
Gruden suggested that Worley will begin to play more snaps at safety this upcoming week, meaning that rookies Isaiah Johnson and Keisean Nixon are likely to get some playing time opposite Trayvon Mullen. While Mullen’s starting spot looks secure moving forward, Worley’s contract is up after this season and neither Johnson or Nixon look ready to step into a full-time role.
That could make Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler an intriguing prospect for the Raiders to consider. The 6-foot-2, 185 pound corner fits the profile of the long press cornerback that Mayock (a former NFL defensive back) appears to be seeking.
Cameron Dantzler vs Kentucky pic.twitter.com/FHxdZuxElk— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlassClips) November 13, 2019
Dantzler’s ball skills are his top selling point. He played quarterback at the high-profile St. Thomas Aquinas high school in Florida and was recruited to Mississippi State with an athlete designation before converting to cornerback full-time.
Coaches love defensive backs with experience at quarterback because they often have advanced route recognition skills and know how to bate opposing quarterbacks into throws.
Dantzler combines route feel with a mix of aggression and timing when attacking the catch point. He gets his head around quickly and always makes plays on the ball. When you combine ball skills and natural awareness, you get a true ballhawk. That’s what should make Dantzler so interesting to the Raiders. They need another ballhawk who can force turnovers in the secondary.
Cameron Dantzler vs LSU pic.twitter.com/fKjl1S91Pr— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlassClips) November 13, 2019
In the example provided above, Dantzler pushes the opposing receiver off his path at the top of his route and runs the route for him, getting himself in position to make an interception while forcing the receiver to turn into a defender and bat the ball down.
To get a better understanding of Dantzler, I spoke to former Mississippi State scout team quarterback Mitch Hood, who knows a thing or two about throwing Dantzler’s way.
“Cam’s ball skills are obviously great. His strength is underrated. Not the biggest frame, but he’s deceptively strong,” Hood said. “He doesn’t look crazy fast, but the long strides allow him to make up ground quickly. And he’s not a big time talker. More of a nose to the grindstone guy.”
Speed is obviously paramount at the cornerback position, and Dantzler’s range and closing speed are more or less average. If he had exceptional quickness, he’d be a slam dunk first round pick.
And as Hood points out, Dantzler’s slight frame masks his underrated strength, which comes out often when defending the run. That’s where Dantzler separates himself from other prima donna conrerbacks; He’s always willing to attack ball carriers and make plays in the open field.
Willingness to tackle and come up vs. the run is an underrated aspect of playing CB. Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler shows exactly what you want to see here. Ascending CB in the 2020 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/77RfCsGv8t— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) August 27, 2019
When facing stalk blocks from receivers, Dantzler uses his length to continue to set the edge and force plays inside (as he’s often asked to do), but he can get washed when tasked with facing big blocking tight ends or fullbacks.
Dantzler is seen by some as a bit of a project by some due to some occasional sloppy footwork and lapses of balance, but those can be corrected with proper coaching. His biggest problem at the moment is allowing his pad level to get too high after his initial press punch, which causes him to lose ground when transitioning from in phase to out of phase.
For a big-bodied cornerback, he has good hip fluidity, but that won’t save him from improper technique at the NFL level.
If the Raiders are indeed interested in the Mississippi State Bulldog, they won’t have to go very far to find someone who knows him well. After all, he was a member of the same secondary as Johnathan Abram for two years.
Pairing up Abram and Dantzler may allow the young cornerback to grow more quickly and acclimate into the Raider Way immediately. It would also give the backend some immediate cohesion. Placing him across from Mullen would give Oakland a pair of big-bodied corners who can match up against some of the AFC West’s top tight ends like Travis Kelce, Hunter Henry and Noah Fant.
Dantzler’s draft range is somewhat unclear at this point of the process. If he runs his forty-yard dash in the 4.4s like some claim he ran in high school, he might creep into the late first round discussion. But if he runs closer to the mid 4.5s, expect him to be selected at some point on Day 2.
Draft Range: Early-second to mid-third round