“I think the Vikings got a steal at corner,” Buckley said. “He should be a Day 1 starter. I think he’ll do awesome for them.”
The Vikings need lots of help at cornerback after losing three veterans at that position during the offseason. Rhodes was let go in a salary-related move before signing with Indianapolis, and Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander signed as free agents with Cincinnati.
The Vikings have holdovers Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd competing for playing for time. They also picked up two other cornerbacks in the draft — Jeff Gladney in the first round and Harrison Hand in the fifth.
At Mississippi State, Buckley also coached Brian Cole II, a safety selected in the seventh round by the Vikings. Buckley did not work with Cole as closely as he did Danzler, but he did coach him when he was a cornerback for a portion of his college career. Last season, Cole played the STAR position for the Bulldogs, which is their nickel spot.
“Brian is one of the best athletes I’ve seen in 10 years (as a coach),” Buckley said of Cole, who began his college career as a Michigan receiver before transferring to East Mississippi Community College and then playing two years at Mississippi State. “I think he’ll be able to contribute immediately. He’s an Energizer Bunny. I mean, he’s an animal on special teams.”
Buckley played in the NFL with Green Bay, Miami, Denver, New England, the New York Jets and the New York Giants, and won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots after the 2001 season. Buckley, who starred at Florida State, returned to his alma mater after his playing days and was a graduate assistant in 2009 when he first met Rhodes, then a Seminoles freshman.
Buckley helped coach Rhodes for three college seasons, and they developed a tight bond. After Rhodes joined the Vikings as a first-round pick in 2013, Buckley kept in close touch with him during his seven seasons with the team, and offered steady advice.
Buckley now regularly dispenses tips to the 6-foot-2, 188-pound Dantzler, whom he recruited to Mississippi State in 2016. At St. Thomas High School in Hammond, La., Dantzler got the nickname “The Needle” because he was so skinny, and his wiry frame almost kept Buckley from recruiting him.
Dantzler redshirted as a freshman before starring for the Bulldogs for three seasons. He was named second-team All-Southeastern Conference in 2018.
“He should have been a first-round pick,” Buckley said. “I felt he was one of the best cornerbacks in the draft. Look at the competition he faced in the SEC with all the star wide receivers. Who do you think I put on them?”
Dantzler had a strong game last season against LSU star Ja’Marr Chase, who had five catches for 48 yards that game. In 2018, Dantzler played a key role in helping hold Alabama star Jerry Jeudy to six catches for 45 yards.
Dantzler slipped in the draft perhaps because he ran the 40-yard dash in an underwhelming 4.64 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, although he believes a quadriceps injury played a role in that. Dantzler later ran a hand-timed 4.38 at a pro day that scouts could not attend because of the coronavirus pandemic, and his agency sent teams a video of it.
“He’s fast enough,” Buckley said. “He’s got great feet and size. He’s got feet like a little guy. He can change directions. He can do a lot of things that little guys can do but he’s got size, and I think that separates him from a lot of people. And he’s tough. He can always get stronger, if you put it in the right places.”
Buckley was excited to see Dantzler join the Vikings a month after Rhodes departed. He talks to him at least every couple of weeks.
Earlier this year, Buckley bought some custom-made T-shirts featuring Dantzler’s initials and his “Needle” nickname. Dantzler had them made in a partnership benefiting the child hunger charity No Kid Hungry.
“I almost didn’t recruit him because he did look like a needle,” Buckley said with a laugh. “I wanted a ball player. But, man, am I glad I did because he came in and became one of our top corners.”