We’re in the home stretch of the 2022 NFL Draft cycle, and many have the scouting report of Cincinnati CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner propped up as the best at his position. But is Gardner the CB1 he’s advertised to be? Here’s a look at what Gardner offers, what makes him such an exciting prospect, and where he fits in a strong CB hierarchy in 2022.
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Cincinnati
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 6’2 3/4″
- Weight: 190 pounds
- Wingspan: 79 3/8″
- Arm: 33 1/2″
- Hand: 9 5/8″
Ahmad Gardner Scouting Report
When your nickname is Sauce, you simply have to be a good football player — it’s a universal obligation. For Gardner himself, it’s an obligation as well, but not brought on by nickname alone. In Gardner’s mind, he’s already the best, so he has to constantly uphold that standard, day in and day out.
Gardner’s success is a culmination of rare physical talent, mental toughness, and acuity. At cornerback, you can’t just be athletic or long. You have to be competitive, and you have to have an alpha mentality. As his 2022 NFL Draft scouting report shows, Gardner has the tools to be that alpha on the boundary.
Gardner’s athletic profile
With any cornerback, you have to start with their athletic makeup. With the wide receiver position so saturated with talent in today’s NFL, there’s a tangible baseline of athleticism that cornerbacks have to possess. If they fall below that baseline, it severely impacts their ability to cover NFL receivers.
Luckily for Gardner, he easily surpasses the baseline requirements for athleticism. He sports a long, lanky frame, standing just under 6’3″ and weighing in at around 190 pounds. He also owns exceptional length. For his size, Gardner is an excellent mover. The Bearcats star is relatively fluid flipping his hips and mirroring on one-direction cuts, and he has excellent explosiveness while changing direction. He also has the initial agility and burst to match receivers off releases.
Gardner’s explosiveness, in fact, is one of the more foundational parts of his game. The Cincinnati CB sports an insane burst coming back upfield, and he shows off abruptness in tackling situations. There’s an effervescent twitch in his movement as he’s always amped up. Gardner’s combination of length and closing burst makes him dangerous in multiple phases. He also has the speed to carry receivers upfield with his long strides.
Gardner’s execution beyond his traits
Physically, Gardner is one of the more enticing talents in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, some of the most appealing parts of his game are mental rather than physical.
The Detroit, Michigan product plays with an infectious attitude, and he’s always incredibly alert and aware of his surroundings. He can change initiative at a moment’s notice, and he owns the wherewithal to position himself well against 2-on-1 opportunities for the offense. The Cincinnati CB is exceptionally quick to read and react to passes. His game-winning pick-six against ECU in 2019 is just one example of his natural instincts in action.
Elsewhere, Gardner’s profile holds strong. He’s fairly physical at the line of scrimmage, and he has the agility to recover if he fails to jam at the line. Gardner is proactive playing the ball at the catch point, and he has the length to consistently disrupt the catch process. He also possesses a great sense of timing, which enables him to convert with his physical traits.
Beyond his abilities in coverage, Gardner is a sound tackler. He has good tackling form overall, and he wraps up well in 1-on-1 situations. The Cincinnati CB is also an aggressive player when coming downhill. He attacks ball carriers stranded in the flats, and his explosive burst can be a death knell for receivers trying to rack up yards after the catch.
Areas for improvement
Gardner’s scouting report is stellar; the Cincinnati CB has been in many first-round mocks to this point, and that’s not by accident. Even so, his profile isn’t spotless.
Gardner could stand to sink his hips a bit more when changing directions to be more efficient. He’s more of a leggy mover than a sudden or fleet-footed cornerback, although, to his credit, he improved his footwork drastically from 2019 to 2020. That resulted in a corresponding improvement in movement freedom. Nevertheless, he still plays a little too high on breaks, and he’ll never have elite fluidity.
Additionally, Gardner can be overly aggressive at the line and delay his transition upfield. His press technique is inconsistent, as he sometimes punches before his base is in the right spot. This can cause him to fall a step behind his opponents. He occasionally gives away optimal positioning down the field, and he can get caught up in congestion against overlapping route concepts. On top of the coverage qualms, Gardner can be more consistent dismantling blocks in run support.
Despite his flaws, Gardner’s scouting report shows that he has the size, explosiveness, awareness, and competitive fire to be an alpha at the cornerback position. If he can keep refining his footwork and increasing his freedom of motion, he could reach unanticipated heights.
Ahmad Gardner’s 2022 NFL Draft scouting report overview
Some have Gardner as their CB1 at this point. It’s easy to see why. Gardner has an elite size-athleticism combination at 6’3″, 190 pounds. He also offers searing explosiveness and impeccable instincts. He can use those traits in conjunction to make rangy plays in zone coverage.
While Gardner has great agility and good fluidity for his size, he’s not the most fluid cornerback. While his efficiency of motion has improved drastically since the start of his career, he still plays a little too high in and out of breaks. Gardner doesn’t always sink his hips enough, and he’s not always lightning quick to recover when he lurches in press.
Gardner is physical at the line and has enough athleticism to improve in press-man coverage. But right now, his timing and hand technique are a bit inconsistent. While he has the athleticism to recover, his feet can get tied up. As of now, he translates better in zone-heavy schemes. I have Andrew Booth Jr. and Derek Stingley Jr. ranked higher, mainly on account of their more well-rounded profiles.
Nevertheless, Gardner can be a fairly versatile cornerback at his maximum projection. And already, he projects extremely well in zone — to the point where he could be a blue-chip playmaker in space. His all-around awareness and elite explosive burst combine to form a deadly mix of traits, and his tenacious playmaking mentality only completes his profile. Gardner is a first-round prospect, but especially for zone-heavy teams who feature a lot of Cover 3, he can be a star.
Gardner’s athletic testing numbers
- 40-yard dash: 4.41
Gardner did not post numbers in the bench press, three-cone, shuttle, vertical, or broad jump.
Gardner’s Player Profile
Gardner played both cornerback and wide receiver at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit, Michigan. He was viewed as a three-star prospect in the 2018 recruiting class. At just 159 pounds, he was considered undersized for his 6’2″ frame.
Still, he attracted several Division IA offers from schools like Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, and Syracuse. However, rather than playing in the Power Five, Gardner decided to head to the American Athletic Conference, where the Cincinnati Bearcats were rising.
Gardner’s career at Cincinnati and NFL Draft ascension
Gardner immediately became one of the conference’s best defensive backs as a true freshman, generating 3 interceptions, 6 pass deflections, and 2 touchdowns in 11 games played. He only built onto that reputation as a true sophomore, again amassing 3 interceptions and 6 deflections. In both seasons, Gardner earned first-team All-AAC honors.
In his junior season, Gardner continued to impress. He put up 40 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 3 picks, and 4 deflections in a dominant 2021 showing. The Cincinnati CB earned first-team All-AAC honors and was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year. He also fielded first-team All-American honors — a type of national respect that few attain.
Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Ahmad Gardner
Positives: Tall, athletic corner who showed tremendous progress in his game the past two seasons. Very aggressive, flips his hips transitioning off the line, and battles opponents throughout the route. Stays on the receiver’s hip out of breaks, tracks the pass in the air, and possesses good hands for the interception.
Jams opponents at the line of scrimmage, mixes it up with receivers throughout the route, and works to get his head back around to locate the pass in the air. Plays to his 40 time and easily stays downfield with opponents. Shows a closing burst that allows him to recover. Fires up the field, gives effort defending the run, and wraps up tackling. Plays to his size.
Negatives: Must brush up his footwork pedaling in reverse. Inconsistent getting his head back around and does a bit of face guarding on occasion. Must improve his overall technique.
Analysis: Gardner significantly elevated his game last season and possesses the size as well as speed to start on Sundays. While there’s room for improvement, Gardner could quickly break into a starting lineup as a rookie.
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