Is Sauce Gardner already the NFL’s CB1?
Sauce Gardner has been everything the New York Jets could have dreamed of when they drafted him.
The only question that remains is this: Is Gardner already the best cornerback in the NFL?
Gardner had lofty expectations coming into the NFL following a dominant college career, which was capped off by shutting down star Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams in the College Football Playoffs. However, after being selected fourth overall, people wondered how he would handle the talent in the NFL after playing weaker competition at Cincinnati.
Fourteen games into his career, Gardner has handled it just fine.
In his first career game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sauce already looked like he belonged. The defining moment came when he deflected a deep pass from Lamar Jackson to Mark Andrews to prevent a touchdown.
Mark Andrews covered in Sauce#Jets #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/rAYLxPAE9p
— PlayerProfiler NFL (@Profiler_NFL) September 11, 2022
Two weeks later, he faced off with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Joe Burrow as the Jets took on the Cincinnati Bengals. Again, he was smothering in coverage and knocked away a deep pass intended for Ja’Marr Chase to keep the Jets in the game.
Nice pass breakup made by Sauce Gardner on Jamarr Chase.
— 7️⃣7️⃣ WABC Sports (@77wabcsports) September 25, 2022
Less than a month into his NFL career, Sauce had earned his nickname and was keeping up with some of the NFL’s best receivers. Most impressively, Sauce has improved almost every week since.
It’s safe to say he’s been good or even great. But how does he compare against the best cornerbacks in the NFL?
I broke down several statistics to compare Gardner against some of the other cornerbacks who are in consideration to be the position’s best player this season. The results narrowed it down to three players.
First, we’ll look at their overall production and then dive deeper into their productivity on a per-snap or target basis.
So let’s see how Sauce stacks up against the best.
Three-man race for Best Cornerback in the NFL
Using Pro Football Focuses statistics, Sauce is undeniably a top 3 cornerback in the NFL already. The other two players are James Bradberry of the Philadelphia Eagles and Jaycee Horn of the Carolina Panthers, who are having outstanding seasons in their own right.
Here is how all three compare among 96 qualified cornerbacks with at least 235 coverage snaps:
|Yards||Yards/Snap||Yards/Target||Pass Breakups||Pass Breakups/Target||INTs||INTs/Target||Passer Rating Allowed||Completion % Allowed||Total Snaps|
|Sauce Gardner||262 (7th)||0.38 (2nd)||4.4 (2nd)||12 (1st)||20.3% (1st)||2 (T-14th)||3.4% (21st)||48.8 (3rd)||44.1% (2nd)||915 (8th)|
|Jaycee Horn||216 (3rd)||0.51 (3rd)||5.1 (5th)||3 (T-56th)||7.1% (T-60th)||3 (T-3rd)||7.1% (3rd)||39.4 (1st)||54.8% (19th)||769 (26th)|
|James Bradberry||298 (12th)||0.59 (5th)||4.2 (1st)||9 (T-5th)||11.7% (20th)||3 (T-3rd)||3.9% (17th)||45.7 (2nd)||45.5% (3rd)||876 (13th)|
All three are having remarkable seasons and it’s no surprise they are all top three in passer rating allowed.
When you compare across all these statistics, no other cornerback is particularly close to these three. But even when compared to this degree, with this many numbers at our disposal, it is still difficult to definitively decide who is the best between them.
So let’s take it a step further and compare them by their percentile rankings.
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Comparing by percentile
Even when comparing by percentile, it’s remarkably close.
Here is how all three stack up by percentile rankings in their most relevant statistics.
|Yards/Snap||Yards/Target||Targets/Snap||YAC/Reception||Pass Breakups/Target||INTs/Target||Passer Rating Allowed||Completion Percentage Allowed|
To crown a winner, I took a weighted average of all the statistics shown. Here is how much each counted for:
- Yards Per Snap (25%)
- Yards Per Target (20%)
- Targets Per Snap (7%)
- Yards After Catch Per Reception Allowed (5%)
- Pass Breakups Per Target (5%)
- Interceptions Per Target (10%)
- Passer Rating Allowed (20%)
- Completion Percentage Allowed (8%)
Since Sauce was significantly better than both of the other players in pass breakups per target, I gave it a lower weight to prevent bias.
In the end, it didn’t matter.
Here is how each stood at the end using the weighted averages above:
- Sauce Gardner: 94.8
- Jaycee Horn: 93.1
- James Bradberry: 91.3
When taking the unweighted average of all percentile rankings, Sauce earned an impressive 93.0 score, still 6 points higher than the next closest cornerback.
And the best cornerback is…
As much as I would love to march around shouting that from rooftops, in the end, it’s impossible to truly crown the best cornerback in the NFL with just statistics – especially considering almost every website and team tracks stats differently.
But it’s undeniable Sauce has a pretty good argument for the title.
He has a nose for the football while his swagger and nickname have drawn plenty of attention. And it’s not like he’s covering bad players.
The Jets have played five of the top ten receiving leaders in the NFL: Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Jaylen Waddle, and Amon-Ra St. Brown.
In those games, Sauce was only targeted two times while covering those players, giving up just 53 yards. Outside of the 42-yard pass he allowed to Diggs to open the Bills game, opposing teams have rarely ever challenged Sauce even when covering some of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
Only 14 games into his career, it already seems clear that wide receivers will be getting lost in the sauce for years to come.
Defensive Rookie of the Year.