Best/Worst Case: Cleveland and Dantzler
As we move through the Minnesota Vikings’ draft picks, the best- and worst-case scenarios become a lot more difficult to predict. For second-round pick Ezra Cleveland and third-round pick Cameron Dantzler, the paths seem relatively clear. Both have relatively high floors and ceilings.
Best Case: Cleveland establishes himself as the best option at LG, forcing the Vikings to move Dakota Dozier and Aviante Collins into a backup role. The combination of Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, and Pat Elflein ends up being a passable trio along the interior, largely due to their tremendous athleticism. Cleveland regularly succeeds in double-team blocks while similarly thriving in his ability to create room for Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison in the screen game.
Worst Case: Cleveland never fully adjusts to LG. The result is an awkward situation where both Cleveland and the Vikings don’t know where he fits. Riley Reiff and Dozier/Collins are just good enough to keep their starting positions without ever becoming elite; Cleveland still fails to assert himself.
Best Case: The Purple Hype is more than justified as Dantzler ends up following corners such as Marshon Lattimore and Jaire Alexander who quickly established themselves as strong players at their position. Dantzler ends up being the starting outside corner in nickel. His abilities allow Zimmer to have flexibility in his play calls. Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith don’t need to regularly help Dantzler, freeing them to address other weaknesses. Zimmer is also able to be more creative in his blitzes because he knows Dantzler can succeed in one-on-one situations.
Worst Case: The concerns about his forty end up being legitimate. Not only does Dantzler struggle with straight-line speed, but also with smaller, shiftier players. Nicknamed “The Needle” because of his skinniness, Dantzler gets bullied by stronger receivers. Aaron Rodgers targets him consistently in Week 1, giving the rest of the NFL a roadmap for how to exploit Zimmer’s defense when Dantzler is on the field.
The likeliest outcome for Ezra Cleveland and Cameron Dantzler is that they’ll have solid, unspectacular rookie seasons.
Cleveland, like Brian O’Neill before him, was chosen to contribute in a year. O’Neill surprised by being ready in his rookie season; it is unfair to expect Cleveland to do the same. He’ll likely be a depth piece who will have considerable growth in his rookie year.
Dantzler has been an intriguing option from the outset. While it’s true that his forty time was underwhelming, Dantzler’s game film is impressive. Perhaps even more important is Dantzler has been solid throughout training camp, providing plenty of optimism that Zimmer’s defense may once again be dominant.