What does Sauce Gardner bring to the New York Jets?
The 21-year-old Gardner was one of the few blue-chip, elite prospects in this class. He has all of the tools to become one of the best corners in the NFL.
The selection of Gardner completed an overhaul to the Jets’ cornerback group this offseason. With the selection of Gardner and the signing of D.J. Reed in free agency, the Jets now have two high-level starters at a premium position.
Here are some of the most important things for Jets fans to know about Gardner.
Pre-draft measurables and production
Gardner is about as tall and long as they come at the cornerback position, standing just under 6-foot-3 with 33 1/2″ arms. He has a huge 79 3/8″ wingspan with big 9 5/8″ hands. At 190 pounds, he is not necessarily the biggest but still plays extremely physical.
The 40-yard dash was the only aspect of athletic testing Gardner participated in. He ran well with a 4.41 time. Gardner had a 1.51 10-yard split and 2.56 20-yard split.
Gardner was extremely productive in college, not allowing a touchdown over 33 games throughout his three years at Cincinnati (2019-21). He totaled nine interceptions (three each season), 16 passes defended, and 5.5 tackles for loss in his career. Five of those tackles for loss came in 2021, including three sacks.
Gardner makes his presence felt with his leadership and confidence. He has the skill set to play in man coverage against top receivers.
Starting at the line of scrimmage, Gardner spent most of his time in press coverage at Cincinnati. He is extremely physical and efficient at using his hands in press, making the most of his unique length.
% of career coverage snaps in press coverage, per @PFF charting:
Ahmad Gardner: 76%
Trent McDuffie: 62%
Kyler Gordon: 59%
Derek Stingley Jr: 56%
Roger McCreary: 53%
Kaiir Elam: 47%
Andrew Booth Jr: 39% pic.twitter.com/O1G5ClF9Ta
— Ben Linsey (@PFF_Linsey) March 28, 2022
Gardner is a fluid mover with great athleticism. He can change direction very quickly for a taller corner and is capable of successfully covering routes either vertically or across the field laterally.
Ahmad Gardner only allowed an average of 1.8 yards of separation paired with his ability to close the separation in >1 sec is the reason why some consider Gardner the best cover corner in the draft #NFLDraft2022 pic.twitter.com/uyBB8eJ5GO
— Recruiting Analytics (@RAanalytics) March 29, 2022
Gardner plays to his 4.41 speed as he does not give up big plays down the field. Throughout the route, Gardner remains physical.
one of my favorite Ahmad Gardner reps is this one because inevitably when you play that much press you are going to lose reps at the line of scrimmage but his recovery here is fantastic and you can see him drop his hips only just after the receiver starts his break pic.twitter.com/jbCayTW0rV
— Seth Galina (@pff_seth) April 14, 2022
Gardner is a physical, willing tackler who always plays with great effort. He will come up and play the run competitively to help make stops. He can also be deployed as a blitzer and make his impact felt (three sacks in 2021).
Detroit King grad Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati CB) with a nice sack from the AAC title game tonight.
— The D Zone (@TheD_Zone) December 5, 2021
Gardner will come in and be the Jets’ number one cornerback to start the 2022 season. He has the talent and mentality to hold his own and help the Jets defense from the jump. The unit needs more takeaways and Gardner can provide just that.
With D.J. Reed’s success on the right side, Gardner will likely be utilized as the left corner. Either way, Gardner will get significant playing time as a rookie.
The hope with Gardner is that he becomes arguably the best cornerback in football down the road. His significant success throughout college gives him the potential to be an elite difference-maker.
Gardner has excellent physical traits and athletic ability to go with his younger age, which gives him plenty of room to get even better. He can also stand to get bigger as he ages, allowing him to play with more physicality.
His high floor already gives him top-10 cornerback potential within the next few years.
Gardner has a strong reputation for his exceptional personality. At an early age of roughly six, he earned the nickname “Sauce” for his on-field dominance.
He possesses all of the intangibles to change the culture of the Jets organization. At Cincinnati, Gardner was thrust into a position to pick up his team as a core leader.
Gardner’s defensive coordinator, Mike Tressel had this to say about him prior to Cincinnati’s playoff game:
“Ahmad is the type of guy who, certainly, on the field, is locked in from start to finish but has the ability to keep the room loose, keep the defense loose, make sure we have fun as we’re preparing like professionals.”
Gardner spoke before the draft about his mindset toward changing the culture of a struggling team such as the Jets.
“If I go to a team that said ‘same old anything’, I’m going to change it. If they mean that in a bad way then I feel like I’m the change. I’m a person who’s going to do any and everything so we can win and turn the program around. That’s how I feel about it. I’m not going to come and get used to the norm.”
Off of the football field, Gardner seems motivated to make an impact in the local community, as he tweeted shortly after being drafted by the Jets.
I AM SO EXCITED TO BE A JET MAN!!! I CAN’T WAIT TO GET TO WORK AND INTERACT WITH THE COMMUNITY‼️ #TakeFlight
— SAUCE (@iamSauceGardner) April 29, 2022
Like most of the prospects Joe Douglas has drafted, Gardner has great character.
Overall, Gardner is the potential face-of-the-franchise type of prospect the Jets needed to get with the fourth overall pick. He has the ability to be one of the leading forces in bringing respect and credibility back to the Jets organization.
Gardner can be a vital, leading asset to Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s defense. The Jets will hope that Gardner, D.J. Reed, and Michael Carter II can form the Jets’ long-term cornerback trio, as they are all 25 and under.
The floor and potential in future years with Gardner are great. His unique height, length, press-man coverage, athletic ability, and character give Gardner a great opportunity to be a Jet legend.
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