Scouting Combine Cornerbacks: Dynamic Dantzler
Part 1 of our four-part look at the 35 cornerbacks includes Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler, Ohio State’s Damon Arnette and Wake Forest ballhawk Essang Bassey. (Underclassmen are marked with an asterisk.)
Damon Arnette, Ohio State (6-0, 195): Arnette had five interceptions in four seasons. As a senior, he had one interception – a 96-yard pick-six – and eight additional breakups. He was second-team all-Big Ten as a senior after honorable mentions the previous two seasons.
Arnette had all but decided to turn pro after the 2018 season but was talked out of it by former Ohio State and NFL star receiver Cris Carter. A change of position coaches helped seal the change of heart. “I just feel like everybody grows up and recognizes certain situations and knows how to handle them naturally better than others,” Arnette told the Columbus Dispatch, “and others have to go through the fire to learn, and I was definitely one of those type of learners.” Arnette had to win over his teammates and the fans upon his return. “Once I just realized that playing with fire, you will get burned a lot of different ways, it just ain't worth it,” he told the Dayton Daily News. "So I feel like a part of learning from that stuff is going through certain things and just learning from those mistakes. I try to just use what I know I rejected and what I accepted to help others.” Arnette’s dad was a star basketball player at Florida Atlantic; Arnette Jr. was 2 at the time. He graduated in the summer with a degree in communications.
Grayland Arnold, Baylor (5-10, 190): After missing most of the 2018 season with an injured ankle, Arnold returned in 2019 and had six interceptions and two additional pass breakups for a total of eight passes defensed. By finishing fifth in the nation in interceptions, he was second-team all-Big 12. In four seasons of cornerback to start his career and safety and nickel in 2019, he had seven interceptions and 20 total passes defensed. He also averaged 12.4 yards per punt return with a 73-yard touchdown in 2019.
“It's got to be like, 'No, this ball is mine' every time the ball is in the air,’” he told the school athletics site of his mentality. “It has to start in practice. But once you create those good habits, it will lead over to the game.” Arnold missed a total of 14 games due to the ankle, a broken arm and a knee to the head so severe that he was carted off the field. In high school, he was all-state in basketball – the sport where his older sister played at Texas. “Basketball was my favorite sport,” Arnold told the Waco Tribune. “It was a family thing. I scored a lot of points every game. I probably worked the hardest at basketball growing up. There were a lot of late nights shooting in the gym. I’m still the best basketball player on the football team, though a couple of guys probably won’t agree with that.”
Essang Bassey, Wake Forest (5-10, 190): Bassey was a ball magnet. Among active players, he led the nation with 50 career passes defensed. As a sophomore, he had three interceptions, 16 additional breakups (for a career-high 19 passes defensed) and six tackles for losses. As a junior, he had one interception and 15 additional breakups. As a senior, he had one interception and 11 additional breakups.
How was he so productive? “He has the quickness and he has the explosiveness and short-area bursts that are more important in his position than anything else,” position coach Ryan Crawford said. “That’s his forte. He has good long speed, good enough to run with most of the perimeter skill in this league on the outside of the field. The way he prepares, that knowledge helps his actions and understanding. He is so smart and so well prepared, and that helps him to play that much faster. He sees things right away and can take some calculated risks and chances.” Intelligence helps, too. “Wake was a little different, you know,” he told NFL Draft Blitz at the Senior Bowl. “We actually went to class. Some guys at other schools would take online classes, so you know we were right in the thick of things with the non-student athletes. We would have tutor sessions and academic services with us week to week. Those rigors, you have the football side and you have the academics as well. I think Wake Forrest did an incredible job with me and the rest of the student athletes, giving us a schedule to balance those two things out.”
Trajan Bandy, Miami* (5-9, 186): Bandy was a two-year starter who was third-team all-ACC as a sophomore (three interceptions, eight breakups for 11 total passes defensed) and an honorable mention as a junior (no interceptions, nine breakups, first three sacks of career). He left school for what he called “a number of unforeseen off the field circumstances and discussions with my family.”
He shares a bond with Miami legend Sean Taylor. Bandy and Taylor’s half-brother, Jamal Johnson, frequently watch film together. When Bandy committed to play for his hometown school, “Jamal pulled up to the house with the jersey and said he wanted Trajan to take some pictures with it on. He said nobody had touched or worn it since his passing in 2007,” Bandy’s father, Jeff, told the Miami Herald. “Sean’s grandmother lives five houses down from us, so he grew up around that family.” The undersized Bandy didn’t back down from a challenge. “He’s feisty,” safety Sheldrick Redwine told the Palm Beach Post. “He don’t care how tall somebody is, how fast they are. He’s going to fight. It’s going to be him versus the man, and in his mind he can’t lose. That’s good to have for a little guy. We say he’s got little man syndrome. He’s small, but he always plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s feisty, so that’s a good thing to have.”
Myles Bryant, Washington (5-9, 185): Bandy had one interception and career highs of eight breakups and nine passes defensed as a sophomore and a career-high three interceptions as a senior, when he was second-team all-Pac-12. His four-year totals included four interceptions, 19 total passes defensed, three forced fumbles, 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for losses, with almost all of that production coming as a three-year starter at corner, safety and nickel.
He was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the best player in the nation who started his career as a walk-on. “To be honest, those things that other people put on me, I never saw it like that,” Bryant told the Seattle Times. “I understood I was a walk-on, but my whole thing was I’m just trying to play. If I just try be the best version of me and maximize my potential, then I felt like that was going to take me to where I needed to be and that ended up getting me a scholarship. I never had that idea of being a walk-on. The chip I have on my shoulder, if you want to call it that, has always been about me just wanting to be the best I can. It’s really that simple.” He learned well from the likes of Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King. “They kind of broke down the game for me,” Bryant told the Daily UW. “If those guys were in watching film on the opponent, I’d just be in the back of the room taking notes on the opponent as well as how those guys were watching film … each year I’ve tried to master the game more and more.” He’s short but not afraid to mix it up. “We like to joke that Myles has the little-man syndrome, and he’s always trying to bully and boss people around,” linebacker Brandon Wellington told the Wenatchee World. “If you know Myles how I knew Myles, you would be smiling too. He’s a great dude off the field, especially. If you go in the weight room right now he’s probably in there lifting with the linemen and competing with them. That’s just the type of dude he is. He’s always trying to bring the best out of everybody.”
Nevelle Clarke, Central Florida (6-1, 187): Clark was an honorable mention on the all-American team as a senior with two interceptions and 11 additional breakups for a total of 13 passes defensed. He was a first-team pick as a junior. Of his career totals of five interceptions and 29 total passes defensed, most of that production came over his final two seasons.
The Miami native grew up admiring Devin Hester. "I run just like him, that's how I would put it. That was my idol growing up," Clarke told the Orlando Sentinel. "...[I studied] his cuts, how he gets in and out his cuts, how he changes directions in a quick second. I'll change directions in a quick second.” Clarke brings the energy on Saturdays. “That’s just me,” Clarke told the Draft Network. “I gotta be myself when I’m out on the field. [When I’m dancing] that’s when I know I’m playing like myself. My coaches let me rock out because they know that when it’s time to play, I get focused. … When we step on the field, you know a South Florida dude just by how we move. Then the play makes it even more obvious.” He was suspended for the end of the 2016 season and the start of the 2017 season for a failed drug test.
Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State* (6-2, 185): In three seasons, Dantzler had five interceptions and a total of 20 passes defensed. He had two picks and seven additional breakups as a sophomore, when he earned second-team all-SEC, and two interceptions and eight additional breakups as a junior. His first career interception came against Lamar Jackson as a freshman.
At St. Thomas High School in Hammond, La., Dantzler was a dual-threat quarterback and state champion in the long jump. “In high school I only played DB a few times if they had a good receiver, but I had no experience at corner at all,” Dantzler told DJournal.com. “I’d never worked out or trained at cornerback. When I got here it was something new. Coach Buck (Terrell Buckley) just stayed on me because he saw something in me. He stayed on me hard every day and trusted me to get better.” Part of that progression was gaining 15 pounds of muscle during his career, a process that started when missing most of his redshirt season of 2016 with an ankle injury. Another was Buckley, a first-round pick by the Packers with 50 career interceptions and is one of the top position coaches in the nation. “After this year, I’ll have about 15 guys that have signed professional contracts and I have just as much confidence in him as I had about Xavier Rhodes and Jaire Alexander,” Buckley told DJournal.com. “He’s buying into not just the talent part. The talent and the mental capacity that he has is starting to merge. Once it really merges and he gets it, it’s just going to be scary.”
Javaris Davis, Auburn (5-10, 180): Davis was the picture of consistency. He had two interceptions in each of his four seasons, with his passes-defensed count ranging from eight to 10. As a senior graduate student, he had the two picks and six breakups for a total of eight passes defensed. The big difference as a senior is he finally stayed healthy.
Cousins Vontae Davis and Vernon Davis and uncle Keith Frazier all played in NFL. At Ed White High School in Jacksonville, Fla., he finished second in the 100 meters. “He’s a fire missile out there,” safety Tra Matthews said in 2017. “He’s so fast. He’s the fastest on the team, actually, so it’s a great advantage for our defense.” He considered entering the draft last year but listened to his mom. "My mom gave me the best advice I have ever received when I was smaller," he told AuburnTigers.com. "She always told me to never get comfortable with success. That stuck with me because I've never had a big head and I'll never get a big head. That's just how I was raised. It's helped me never get complacent."
Get to Know the Scouting Combine Prospects
Introducing the 35 Cornerbacks
Introducing the 31 Linebackers
Introducing the 34 Edge Rushers
Introducing the 25 Defensive Linemen
Introducing the 20 Tight Ends
Introducing the 25 Offensive Tackles
Introducing the 17 Guards
Introducing the 10 Centers
Introducing the 55 Receivers
Introducing the 30 Running Backs
Introducing the 17 Quarterbacks