The San Francisco 49ers met with Mississippi State cornerback Cameron Dantzler on a pre-draft visit, per Justin Melo of USA TODAY. The 6’2”, 188-pound cornerback fits John Lynch’s mold of the long cornerback, but his 30 5/8” arms were the 10th shortest, despite being the tallest cornerback. Dantzler ran a 4.64 40-yard dash and jumped a 34.5 vertical. His 40 time raised questions and all but eliminated him in a lot of draft circles. Dantzler held a pro day on Thursday, where he ran a 4.38 in the 40. If you watch the video, you can see the times are faulty. Common sense tells you nobody goes from running a 4.6 to a 4.3. I asked one of my scouting buddies, and he said he’s timed fewer than 20 guys running a 4.3 in 17 years with the Steelers. That’s a special type of speed. The takeaway here is that Dantzler likely bulked up at the combine and wasn’t used to running at his weight. That, and he’s faster than a 4.6. Dantzler plays like a low 4.5 corner, which is plenty fast to be a legitimate cornerback.
Because you run a fast 40-yard dash does not make you a good cornerback. It means you are fast. The two are not mutual. One of the best athletes in the NFL at cornerback is Ahkello Witherspoon. Spoon ran a 4.45 40, jumped 40.5” in the vertical, and ran a sub-7-second three-cone drill. You have to have a certain mindset to succeed at cornerback. Once Witherspoon started giving up plays, his confidence started wavering. When that happens, superb athletes start to overthink. When you overthink, you start to play slower and second guess yourself. Now your mindset is “I don’t want to get beat in coverage,” and you tense up. That’s why we saw Witherspoon beaten in coverage during the second half of the season. That wasn’t a 4.45 cornerback playing. It was more like a 4.65 with no reaction time.
I see it, everyday coaching cornerbacks. The mental hurdle outweighs any athletic testing. If you can’t move on to the next play, you’re not going to last long. Think of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, like Sherm, Jalen Ramsey, and Stephon Gilmore. They get beat, but they don’t make the same mistake twice. They can move on because they know they are more talented and prepared than their opponent. In a time full of analytics and thresholds, cornerback is too nuanced to ignore someone with the mentality of Dantzler.
Best fit for the 49ers
After Jeffery Okudah, Dantzler is the best fit for the 49ers at cornerback, in my opinion. After his pro day, I still feel the same assuming his times were somewhere in the 4.5 range. What makes Richard Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley high-quality cornerbacks is their awareness, instincts, and ball skills. Sherm diagnoses route combinations better than anyone in the NFL. Moseley came on strong. You see a lot of the same with Dantzler.
In three years and 88 targets, Dantzler allowed two touchdowns. None of them came in the SEC. He finished his career with five interceptions, but he also dropped five, including three in 2019. Dantzler allowed a deserved catch rate—which measures the percentage of catches or drops a primary defender allows on catchable passes— of 63% in 2019 and just 6.5 yards per target in his career. For comparison, fellow SEC cornerback C.J. Henderson allowed a deserved catch rate of 71% in 2019 and allowed 7.7 yards per target in his career.
Dantzler started 22 games for Mississippi State and showed off the trait that’s needed far more than any athletic testing number: he’s a competitor. It’s nice that the numbers back up what you see on film. Here is Dantzler against Ruggs:
This season Dantzler was the only cornerback that I saw that won against both Alabama and LSU, who have NFL receivers. Here is Dantzler against the best wide receiver in college football:
Every rep between Cam Dantzler and Biletnikoff winner Ja'Marr Chase pic.twitter.com/KiRIgSXXOA— Billy M (@BillyM_91) April 10, 2020
This next play is Dantzler showing off his zone awareness by reading the quarterbacks eyes and high-pointing the pass in the end zone at the top of the screen:
Finally, here is Dantzler coming up to make a play in coverage after baiting the quarterback:
There are too many positives in Dantzler’s game to get hung up on his 40 time.
The 49ers showing interest in Dantzler tells you that the team is considering trading back from No. 31 and acquiring Day 2 picks. If that’s the case, Dantzler should be at the top of their list. He’s a stud, despite what his 40 time is.