While Sauce Gardner has received comparisons to Darrelle Revis, it’s Antonio Cromartie who may be his true player comparison
When thinking of the New York Jets and cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis is the household name that comes to mind. While comparisons between the two came quick, it’s another Jets corner that Sauce Gardner reminds me of most. That man is Antonio Cromartie.
Like Gardner, Cromartie was a first-round pick. Cro was selected by the then-San Diego Chargers in the 2006 NFL draft. Gardner and Cromartie also have similar athletic profiles, each boasting a combination of length and speed.
The two play the position with such similarity that Gardner could be mistaken as his clone. Tell me this scouting report doesn’t sound familiar.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) February 22, 2022
So what does that mean in terms of expectations going forward?
Antonio Cromartie was your quintessential cornerback – excellent coverage skills, a gambler who will try to make the big play – but he had some issues as a tackler and was often beat by some of the league’s better route-running receivers. If you watch Sauce Gardner’s college tape, you’ll see much of the same. There’s good and bad to that.
We saw Cromartie’s ceiling early in his career when he was named an All-Pro in 2007 with his 10-INT season. That year earned him some DPOY votes and a trip to the Pro Bowl as well.
CHARGERS PLAY OF THE DAY ⚡⚡(2007) Antonio Cromartie was such a baller, and this play was probably my favorite pick from him. BTW: Cromartie picked off Manning (3!) times this game. 👀⚡ pic.twitter.com/WbBL3Xp2Qv
— 𝙎𝙚𝙖𝙣¹⁰ (@LASDChargersFan) April 16, 2020
In many instances, you can see that potential in Gardner. Our own Joe Blewett did a great job breaking down the elite traits that are seen in Gardner’s tape.
That ceiling is what the Jets expect of Gardner going forward. Already, Gardner is doing the right things to improve his play; trying to limit potential future penalties and increase his success rate against WRs when the games matter. Considering he had a tendency to be “grabby” in college, this is a big step in the right direction.
Like Cromartie, Gardner’s elite speed and above-average height will keep him in more plays than not. If the front seven can do their job, Gardner will have plenty of opportunities to make plays.
In coverage, both players are able to effectively work their zone and make the right read, which can result in game-changing plays for their team.
On top of that, Gardner and Cromartie both excelled at stopping 9 routes and their variations. Both players also use the boundary to their advantage and can force receivers out of the play. Here’s a great example of that in a Gardner rep against Jameson Williams.
Finally get a Sauce Gardner v Jameson Williams rep. Sauce in a deep third, right side of the field.
Sauce playing bail with hips flipped inside, flips them outside to mirror Jameson’s cut, but then does great to stay square and get in phase. Good cov! pic.twitter.com/wLYREvpa7S
— Jordan Pun (@Texans_Thoughts) December 31, 2021
While Cro had other Pro Bowl seasons, he never came close to that 2007 production again.
Four Pro Bowl seasons is nothing to laugh at, but for a fourth overall pick like Sauce Gardner, expectations are to be much higher. Looking at the tape, there’s concern that Gardner could follow that “good but not great” type of career.
Gardner’s lockdown coverage ability has been lauded, but there’s plenty he will need to work on at the next level. One of the things he can improve is his press coverage against quicker receivers.
When looking at the tape, Gardner excels at stopping slower WRs off the line but has some difficulty hindering WRs with a first quick step, especially if that step is to the inside. His game against Memphis’s Calvin Austin in 2020 is a glaring example of that. This is just one clip, but there are many examples of this when looking at his tape.
Calvin Austin III a twitched up athlete, will run away from anyone. Beats Sauce Gardner here again. Fun, quick watch from 2020. Drew a PI on Sauce early in the game too. pic.twitter.com/qr9Axcww2y
— Josh Carney (@ByJoshCarney) April 30, 2022
It’s no question that Gardner has elite speed, but his inability to deter quick-burst WRs may give him problems with the elite route runners of the league.
An example of what I expect from Gardner against elite WRs is Cromartie’s 2010 game film against the Bengals and Chad Ochocinco. If you recall, Cro had an interception in that game. What is forgotten is the no-call touchdown by Ochocinco and the success he had against Cro otherwise; in what was a horrific display of quarterbacking by Carson Palmer.
The other negative trait that poses a resemblance to Cromartie is Gardner’s inconsistency in the tackling department. Sure, his highlights are nice, but the reality is a stark contrast. Gardner will whiff on a tackle every once in a while. However, this is much less of a problem than other things and can be coached.
Since 1997, only 11 cornerbacks have been selected in the top 5 of the NFL draft. This past season, Sauce Gardner and Houston’s Derek Stingley became the latest additions to that list.
The success rate for top-5 cornerbacks tends to be extremely high. Among the nine cornerbacks who were drafted top-5 from 1997 to 2021, seven of them went on to have strong careers. Detroit’s Jeff Okudah (selected third in 2020) is still a “TBD”.
While it’s highly unlikely Gardner will become a bust, his career outlook trends more towards the direction of Antonio Cromartie than the likes of Darrelle Revis.
As a player who was selected with such premium draft capital, being a CB2-level player for the entirety of his career won’t cut it. And unlike Cromartie, Gardner will likely be thrown to the wolves starting Week 1 of his rookie season.
The Jets will learn quickly if Sauce is legit.