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.
Lost In The Sauce: Through 6 weeks. #Jets pic.twitter.com/Ng4Wer7m5f
— 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.
How important do you consider tackling to be for an NFL cornerback?
Very, I think as the league starts getting the ball out quicker each year, CB’s responsibilities shift more and more towards being able to come down hill and make tackles underneath. I think Gardner can improve there. It was his biggest issue coming out and I would say it still is. That’s not to say he’s bad, I would say he’s average, but there have been some misses.
Plus CBs are becoming more important in run support as teams continue to run more to the outside, specifically trying to get matchups against the CBs.
I think the number to watch is targets per game. Revis was Revis because they almost completely gave up on throwing his way. He had stretches of seasons where he would get 0-2 targets a game and totally shut down 1/2 of the field. Sauce is seeing an average of 5 targets per game, I’d expect to see that number decrease as the season goes. The best CBs get the least targets and he is outstanding. That #4 is very good too but you can’t throw at Sauce Gardner and expect it will end well.
Great point. But what makes it interesting for Sauce is that there’s a really good corner on the other side too. So they feed off of each other well.
Love me some sauce but he may not be the best corner on the team. DJ Reed is playing lights out as well. MC2 also playing great. This group is fantastic. Do you have some numbers on the other two guys ?
I was going to ask the same question. DJ’s been a little less superb while Gardener just had his best game yet…have they flipped?
I don’t think so. DJ just doesn’t get targeted so it doesn’t show up as much. The one big “catch” yesterday I recall, DJ was in perfect coverage but Rodgers threw a dime and Lazard made the grab in the sidelines. If Lazard held in, you can live with it, just a perfect offensive play.
Reed is still way up there in most categories. 5th-best in yards per cover snap at 0.58, basically the same as Sauce. 8th-best in yards per target at 5.1. 7th-best in passer rating at 51.2.
MC2’s coverage stats got messed up by the 56-yard Cincy TD that was Whitehead’s fault (for being that long and being a TD… should’ve been around a 10-15 yard first down or whatever it was). Outside of that play, he’s given up 163 yards on 25 targets and 170 coverage snaps, giving him very nice numbers of 6.5 yards per target and 0.96 yards per cover snap. Would be 29th and 38th, respectively, out of 95 qualifiers, so you’re talking a top 30-40% corner among qualifiers. Good starting slot.