Sauce Gardner Draft Profile
In my opinion, cornerbacks are one of the hardest positions to evaluate for someone who watches film as I do. Since I do not have access to all-22 film, I can usually only see cornerbacks for the first half of the majority of plays. The only time you really get to see a corner back’s full rep is if something really good or something really bad happens. For Cincinnati cornerback, Sauce Gardner, I did not get to see a ton of full reps because he was rarely ever targeted. That is a good thing, quarterbacks were scared to throw to him because when they did, bad things usually happened to them. In his three seasons at Cincinnati, Gardner did not give up a single touchdown and had three picks each season. Gardner is arguably one of the safest prospects in this draft and is widely considered a “sure thing” in the draft world. I am a big fan of Gardner’s; I believe his collegiate success will be replicated professionally.
While Sauce Gardner rarely had the ball thrown in his direction, he made sure to make quarterbacks regret it when they did. This past season, he had three interceptions and did not give up more than 13 yards to any receiver in a game. That means no receiver had a catch that was more than 13 yards on Gardner. He does not give up the deep ball and is a phenomenal cover three corners. Just because he is best in cover three doesn’t mean he is limited to cover three. He ran a 4.38, has phenomenal eye discipline, nimble feet, and great hand placement. Four traits that would make up a really good man-coverage corner as well. At Cincinnati, he showed that he was capable of manning up as well as playing cover two, three, and four. His 6’3 190 lb. frame allows him to match up with just about any receiver. Cincinnati used him primarily on the iso side to shut down the opposing team’s number one X receiver, but he has also played field-side and nickel. In his final year with the Bearcats, he was frequently used on surprise blitzes because quarterbacks usually wouldn’t look in his direction. Gardner doesn’t bite against double-moves and has great recovery speed for when he does get beat in coverage. When tasked with tackling receivers and playing the flat in cover two, Gardner has done a good job despite that not being his strong suit. Fluid hips, quick feet, and tremendous ball skills; Gardner is an elite cornerback prospect and one of the best players in this year’s draft.
As a corner, Sauce Gardner’s main task will be covering receivers and anyone matched up in front of him. When it comes to coverage; it is hard to find a better prospect than Gardner. His main struggles come with tackling bigger players. Against running backs and tight ends, Gardner has a harder time bringing them down usually because of how strong they are. He doesn’t struggle against receivers and quarterbacks, but when running backs and tight ends have the ball sometimes it looks like he doesn’t even try. When he does try, he tends to go high where he should really be going low. Once a good defensive backs coach teaches him how to consistently wrap up at the knees, Gardner will have a chance of being a first-team all-pro,
In a draft where there are so many question marks and uncertainties, teams will place a premium on a guy like Sauce Gardner because that is exactly what he lacks: question marks and uncertainties. Gardner is the closest thing to a “sure-fire pick” as there is in this draft. If you watch the tape, there are not a ton of flaws in his game; he is a plug-and-play guy with rare traits and phenomenal intangibles. When looking at his playstyle, I see him being perfect with the Jets or Seahawks in that Legion of Boom cover three system. I could also see Lovie Smith and the Texans taking him third overall and having him play cover two or the Giants taking him fifth overall and having him play the “Marlon Humphrey role” in Wink Martindale’s base man-coverage defense. One thing teams love about Sauce is his versatility in coverage, which is why I could see him going to so many different teams in the top five. It is hard to see him going outside of the top five picks; for me, he is a top ten player in this year’s draft. He reminds me of the type of player that Xavier Rhodes was in 2017— his all-pro season. Sauce Gardner is both a fan favorite and a favorite player of mine in this year’s NFL Draft.
Ball Skills: 8.75/10
Eyes + Instincts: 7.25/8
Size + Speed: 6.75/7
Man Coverage: 4/5
Zone Coverage: 4.5/5
Final Rating: 86
Pro Comparison: 2017 Xavier Rhodes
Team Fits: Jets, Seahawks, Texans, Giants
Draft Ranking: Top 10 Pick
Draft Projection: Top 5 Pick