The 2022 NFL draft is just weeks away. Prospects are jockeying for draft day position via pro days and individual meetings with teams. You’ll hear a lot about the QBs, but there’s an abundance of intriguing talent in this draft. Players who deserve more hype than this unimpressive quarterback class is getting.
Elite Cover Corners
How about the guys that get paid to intercept passes and defend opposing wide receivers? In a league where the ball is thrown about seven out of every 10 plays, cornerbacks have the toughest assignment on the field.
It takes a unique, confident player with thick skin and a short memory to play corner. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner has all of those attributes and is widely recognized as one of the top cornerback prospects in the 2022 NFL draft.
The long, rangy and “handsy” Gardner disagrees with that assessment. He says he believes he’s the best prospect in the draft, no matter the position. Judging by his college career, he may be correct. Sauce also has extreme confidence, some call it cockiness, but he doesn’t run from it, and he says you need that extra “sauce” to play his position.
— American Football (@American_FB) December 4, 2021
Ahmad Gardner — who according to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post, was given the name “Sauce” by his youth football coach because of the swagger he displayed — embraces his confidence and says it serves as another weapon in his arsenal when he’s matching up with any number of elite receivers.
“People call me cocky, but God knows how humble and confident I am, and how much work I put in to even be able to make that statement, and that’s all that matters,” said Ahmad Gardner.
“The position I play takes a lot of confidence, and sometimes cockiness,” he tweeted.
Among Gardner’s growing fan base is Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who retweeted Sauce’s acclamation and invited him to play with the Ravens.
Come to the ravenz 😈 https://t.co/p8X9ZTD9DK
— Lamar Jackson (@Lj_era8) April 4, 2022
Sauce Has The Skill Set: Only Question Was His Straightline Speed
For three years at Cincinnati, Gardner dominated wide receivers, with his length (6 feet 3) and strong hands. He’s a press corner with great ball skills and underrated twitch. His competitiveness and desire to be the best oozes, and it played a huge role in the Bearcats’ run to the College Football Playoffs.
The Bearcats became the first “Group of Five” team to crash the CFP party since its inception in 2014. While everyone knew Sauce could play press coverage, the big question mark for Gardner was could he run? Because in the NFL press coverage doesn’t always work, and teams apply more zone looks than ever due to the pass-heavy nature of the game.
At the NFL Combine, he shocked everyone when he clocked in at 4.41 in his 40-yard dash. That number pretty much solidified him as a top-ten selection on draft night. The only other corner who could be taken before him is LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr, the grandson of former New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley.
— NFL (@NFL) March 7, 2022
In fact, an unnamed scout had this to say in February at the NFL Combine:
“I see (Derek Stingley) going before him, but he’s developing really quickly, and I like how (Gardner) doesn’t give receivers any breathing room when he plays press.”
Pro Football Focus has Stingley going at No. 3 to the Houston Texans, two picks before Gardner, whom the New York Giants are projected to bring to the Big Apple.
Keep in mind Stingley has been the top corner prospect since he arrived at LSU as a freshman in 2019, and he helped the Tigers win the national championship. But a subpar 2020 season and checking out after three games in the 2021 to prepare for the NFL draft may result in some teams going cold on the talent.
Gardner’s College Stats Were Unreal: Lockdown Man-To-Man Cover Corner
“Gardner allowed just 131 yards across 14 games and 482 coverage snaps in 2021, a performance that will forever be known as one of the best ever seasons by a college defensive back,” Anthony Treash wrote.
Gardner didn’t surrender more than 13 yards in a single game to any receiver. And he never allowed a touchdown his entire career. In 68 red zone targets he never allowed a catch.
He was highly respected around the college game. Even Nick Saban opted for a run-heavy approach in his Alabama team’s 27-6 playoff win over the Bearcats. Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young didn’t throw Gardner’s way the entire game, a true sign of respect from the Crimson Tide.
For a kid growing up in Detroit, who was overlooked by the Power Five schools, Gardner is set to realize his dream. He dedicated his success to his mom and talked about her at the Media Combine Day in February.
“Growing up in Detroit, we didn’t really have anything,” Garner said. “What I did have was a mother who always made the impossible possible, so she’s my hero.”
Moms should be expecting some extravagant gifts once Sauce inks that contract.