Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner is a rising junior cornerback at the University of Cincinnati who stood out in his first two seasons. He was the 15th most targeted cornerback in terms of snaps/target as a freshman, yet allowed just a 39.4 passer rating. As a sophomore, Gardner earned spots on five All-American teams. He also allowed the third-lowest passer rating in coverage in FBS during the 2020 season. With a historically good first two seasons, Gardner will look to build on an already excellent body of work and cement his draft status as a high first-round pick.
STRENGTHS: Gardner is a smooth athlete in coverage. He is excellent at mirroring a receiver’s leverage, which makes it very challenging for them to gain separation. He has an excellent change of direction ability, which allows him to match up with even the most agile receivers. He can accelerate very well when trying to make up the gap between him and the receiver. This allows him to cover drive routes and other crossers better than most CBs. Gardner consistently remains focused on his path to the receiver when defending deep throws – he does not panic. He can consistently finish through the catch point because he is always on the receiver’s hip. Due to this, he gives the quarterback a very slim margin for error on the spots he can place the ball, which also puts pressure on the receiver to catch passes cleanly. Gardner has nice length for the cornerback position, standing at 6’3”, with long arms as well. Because he rarely gives up significant ground in coverage, his combination of tight coverage and arm length allows him to use his arm length to disrupt passes consistently.
WEAKNESSES: Although Gardner has the ideal length for a cornerback, he has a slight frame, weighing just shy of 200 pounds. Although he is a very willing tackler, getting off of blocks will become increasingly challenging unless he adds to his frame. He is susceptible to getting caught in “traffic” when pressing against a stacked receiver set.
Bottom line: Gardner is an elite talent at a premium position as a cornerback. He faced a slight learning curve in transitioning from high school to college, generating elite production out the gate as a freshman. His transition bodes well for his projection to the NFL, which has an even steeper learning curve than the high school to college transition. Gardner will look to cement his high first-round pick status during his junior season in 2021. He is best served by adding a few pounds to his frame to help against physical receivers. Because of his silky smooth movement traits in coverage, Gardner should be a high first-round pick.
GAMES WATCHED: Memphis 2020, UCF 2020, Houston 2020, East Carolina 2020
Edited By: Rupayan “Abs” Samanta.