Sauce Gardner already looks like an elite cornerback
New York Jets rookie Sauce Gardner is taking the NFL by storm. Everyone knew he had a superstar ceiling – it’s why he was selected fourth overall in the 2022 draft – but few expected him to reach that level so quickly.
Six games into his NFL career, Gardner’s name is already in the conversation among the best cornerbacks in the sport. Fans, media, and former players alike are showering the rookie with praise.
Can we all agree that Sauce Gardner is already one of the best CBs in the league? https://t.co/HJUYGWWKg8
— Wyatt 🥃 (@WyattB_FF) October 17, 2022
Sauce Gardner already one of the top Corners in the NFL.
— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) October 9, 2022
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) October 16, 2022
As a DB the casual fan won’t understand the artistry nor the level of difficulty to remain poised on what probably looks simple to the naked eye, so many intricate details i can’t get into but this is ART 🖼 https://t.co/Kn54kHLQyM
— Chad Johnson (@ochocinco) October 16, 2022
In Week 6, Gardner continued adding to his sparkling resume with a shutdown performance against the Green Bay Packers. The Cincinnati product looked like a man amongst boys when covering Green Bay’s wide receivers. Across 45 snaps in coverage, Gardner was targeted 6 times and allowed 1 catch for 8 yards.
Throughout this season, I have been updating a graphic that features the names of receivers who were shut down by Gardner, titled “Lost In The Sauce”. It is designed to mirror the famous graphic featuring Darrelle Revis that was nationally televised by NBC in 2009.
I’m running out of room on this graphic. I did not expect to be adding new names almost every week – I thought it would be every three or four weeks. But opposing receivers just continue to be draped in Sauce on a weekly basis.
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) October 16, 2022
All of the hype begs a question that nobody thought would be asked this early in Gardner’s career: Is he already a top-5 cornerback in the NFL?
There is a lot of evidence suggesting the answer to that question is yes.
Gardner is yielding a staggeringly minimal amount of production. Consider this: Despite seeing the 29th-most targets among cornerbacks (30), Gardner has allowed the 81st-most yards (135).
With 135 yards allowed on 30 targets, Gardner is giving up an average of 4.5 yards allowed per target, which ranks fifth-best out of 95 qualified cornerbacks (min. 100 coverage snaps):
- Jaycee Horn (CAR): 2.61
- Jamel Dean (TB): 2.77
- James Bradberry (PHI): 3.85
- Bryce Callahan (LAC): 3.94
- Sauce Gardner (NYJ): 4.50
Gardner also ranks 73rd among cornerbacks with only 13 receptions allowed. With 13 catches allowed on 30 targets, he has allowed a catch rate of 43.3%, which places fourth-best out of 95 qualifiers:
- Jaycee Horn (CAR): 38.9%
- Chidobe Awuzie (CIN): 40.5%
- James Bradberry (PHI): 41.5%
- Sauce Gardner (NYJ): 43.3%
- Darius Slay (PHI): 43.8%
Jaycee Horn and James Bradberry are the only other cornerbacks ranked top-5 in both categories.
Sauce’s on-ball playmaking is another tremendous plus on his resume. He has already stockpiled eight passes defended, which ties him for third-most at the cornerback position:
- Trevon Diggs (DAL): 9
- James Bradberry (PHI): 9
- Charvarius Ward (KC): 8
- Sauce Gardner (NYJ): 8
- Patrick Peterson (MIN): 7
- Darius Slay (PHI): 7
Gardner and Bradberry are the only cornerbacks ranked top-5 in all three of the categories listed above.
Gardner also ranks top-10 among 95 qualified cornerbacks in a few other notable coverage categories. He’s allowing the ninth-lowest passer rating (54.2) and the eighth-fewest yards per coverage snap (0.59). Plus, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, he is sixth-best in Targeted EPA allowed as the nearest defender (-11.2).
Here’s another cool tidbit via NFL Next Gen Stats: Gardner is allowing a tight-window target rate of 35%, which ranks seventh-best among cornerbacks. They define a tight-window target as an instance where the defender is less than one yard away from the receiver at the time of the ball’s arrival.
Clearly, Gardner is already a top 5-to-10 cornerback in the NFL – and the scary thing is, he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.