The 2022-2023 NFL Honors have started to name their winners, and the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year has been chosen. In what was considered a two-horse race for much of the season, one rookie separated himself from the pack as the year came to a close. Who won the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, and how did he put himself in a position to do so?
Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner Wins 2022-2023 Defensive Rookie of the Year
New York Jets rookie cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner has won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. When the season ended, Gardner had betting odds at -1200 to win the award and was all but considered a lock for the honor.
Although the Jets’ season was a roller coaster, with the team at one point competing for the top seed in the AFC, everything ultimately fell apart when quarterback controversies derailed their early success. However, even though the offense struggled mightily down the stretch, the defense was considered elite from start to finish. Gardner was a huge reason for that.
Gardner Found His Sauce in College
The former Cincinnati Bearcat was selected by the Jets fourth overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. Gardner’s college career was full of impressive stats and accolades, but he really broke out in his last year. He put up 40 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, three interceptions, and four pass deflections in a dominant showing. More importantly, Gardner did not allow a single TD to an opposing pass catcher while in coverage.
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.
PFN Draft Analyst Ian Cummings broke down Gardner’s tape when scouting him during the draft process. Even then, it was evident that Gardner was going to be something special.
“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.”
A Quick Transition Into the NFL
After being selected as high as he was, it wasn’t long before Gardner found himself in the starting rotation for the Jets. When given the opportunity, he immediately ran with it. However, it wasn’t until Week 5 against the Miami Dolphins that he got his first career NFL interception.
Nevertheless, his dominant play quickly made quarterbacks start to look away from him, echoing memories of the once great “Revis Island” in New York. Even against elite offenses like the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, Gardner managed to keep his assignments in check. In that Detroit game specifically, the offense did not target him once throughout the contest.
Now, Gardner joins an exclusive group as the 2022-2023 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and can add another trophy to his already impressive lineup.