2022 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Ahmad Gardnerby Mason Thompson November 29, 2021 2 comments
The Cincinnati Bearcats are a force to be reckoned with this college football season. That is in large part to perhaps the best cornerback in the country, Ahmad Gardner. ‘Sauce’ was a three-star prospect from Detroit, Michigan, before arriving at Cincinnati. Since his freshman year, Gardner has started at cornerback for the Bearcats. At the end of his rookie campaign, he was the only true freshman named First-Team All AAC.
The best part? Gardner has only gotten better. He hasn’t allowed a touchdown in his entire collegiate career. Gardner had seven penalties in 2020, which have now gone down to two during the 2021 campaign. So far this year, Gardner has only allowed 12 catches on 26 targets for a measly 87 yards while having three interceptions. The Cincinnati product has been nothing short of spectacular. With Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II going in the top-10 of last year’s draft, Gardner is looking to stand out in the 2022 class amongst Derek Stingley Jr, Kaiir Elam, Kyler Gordon, and Andrew Booth Jr.
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Name: Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner
Jersey: No. 1
Weight: 200 lbs
Games Watched: SMU (2020), Notre Dame (2021), Indiana (2021)
Major Injury History: None
Man Coverage (13.75/15)
Gardner was primarily playing one-on-one man coverage during his time for the Bearcats. He had seemingly no issues holding his own against the receivers he faced. In 2020, Gardner had a few issues with being a tad grabby at times, securing seven penalties on the year. In 2021, he only has two penalties to his name. Sauce has also garnered almost no targets intended directly at him due to the opposing team’s quarterbacks avoiding him in the aerial attacks. Teams can trust Gardner one-on-one during his rookie season and see him lock down opposing receivers.
Zone Coverage (13.5/15)
While Gardner can be trusted one-on-one with receivers with no safety help, he is very fluent in zone coverage too. Cincinnati deploys a lot of cover-3 defensively. Gardner does very well in his positioning on those coverages, as seen by the lack of targets thrown his way over his collegiate career. He is equally great in both man and zone coverage.
Perhaps the most important part of being a cornerback is having good instincts. Instincts are found in many ways, but Gardner seems to fit the bill on virtually all of them. His timing when the ball is coming is great and the Cincinnati cornerback is always making a play on the ball. Gardner can move off of one receiver to another within an instant in zone coverage. When the ball is in the air, Gardner takes off like a missile to make a play on the ball.
Ball Skills (9.5/10)
Gardner’s ability to break up passes at the catch point was a bit questionable due to the unfortunate timing to do so at times during the 2020 season. Thankfully, he has seemed to clean up the penalties in 2021. While that stat-sheet doesn’t blow up for Gardner in terms of interceptions and pass breakups, that is because quarterbacks avoid him, as seen by only being targeted 26 times on the season.
Gardner is very physical at the line of scrimmage. He can jam defenders right from the jump and immediately get an advantage. His physicality in the run game is also of note here. While he will sometimes miss tackles, he is always aggressive downhill to attempt the tackle. There were plenty of times where Gardner made a big tackle that would send the ball-carrier backward.
Long Speed (7.5/10)
Gardner is by no means the fastest player on the field at all times. Some 40-yard dash times list him in the 4.5’s. While this is a cause for concern at times, he has great burst to get down the field in an instant whenever he has let up ground in the passing game to the intended receiver, if they throw at Gardner, that is.
Tackling/Run Support (8/10)
While Gardner did a fantastic job in these aspects in 2020, it seems as though he has been a bit lackluster during the 2021 campaign. Gardner sometimes jogs when the ball is near him instead of going and making a tackle immediately and putting his nose right into the thick of things. Thankfully, when there is a throw out of the backfield and Sauce has to go and make the tackle, he can do so.
There were plenty of times where Gardner would read the play out of the backfield before it happened, and he was already halfway to the pass-catcher before the ball was in their hands and making the tackle. There are only a few missed tackles to his name. It isn’t a weakness for Gardner, but it would be nice to see maybe a bit more effort at times.
While there are better cornerbacks in the class in this regard, Gardner is no slouch. He is fast enough to keep up with the receivers he has had to face thus far, and the movement in his hips to mirror the receivers is uncanny. He isn’t as fast as Elam, but Gardner makes up for it in many different aspects. Gardner uses burst more than his long speed to catch up to ball-carriers.
Change of Direction (4.75/5)
Gardner’s change of direction is outstanding. The Cincinnati cornerback could be covering a receiver downfield, then when the ball was thrown to a running back out of the backfield, Gardner could flip his hips explosively and be on the running back in an instant to make the tackle. On some occasions, Gardner would be engaged in coverage to see the receiver with the ball in their hands running, and the star cornerback would chase them down to make a touchdown-saving tackle.
With his height and arm length, Gardner can easily make up lost ground. That is if a quarterback decides it’s safe enough to throw at him. There were multiple occasions where Gardner broke up the pass after being a step or two behind the pass-catcher. Gardner’s long strides help him chase down receivers as they run past him to save chunk gains or touchdowns.
Gardner is in the conversation as the top cornerback in the 2022 class. What isn’t talked about enough is his infectious personality on the field. While there is an argument that Cincinnati hasn’t played the best teams, it is best to scout the player and not the helmet. His best attributes come in coverage as a whole and his instincts. His infectious personality on the field is also a major plus. Some weaknesses arise in the fact that he’s not a top-notch athlete, especially with his only average long-speed, and the fact he doesn’t disengage off of blocks very well. Thankfully, he makes up for that with his absurd explosiveness.
When there are conversations about who is the best cornerback in the class, Gardner needs to be one of the first names mentioned. While he could fall out of the top-10, whichever team scoops him up will be getting a steal that can deploy him in a variety of different coverages and allow his instincts to go to work.
Rookie Projection: Starting Outside Cornerback
Third Year Projection: Potential Top-10 Cornerback
Final Grade (89.25/100): Potential Top-10 Pick
Player Comp: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie