NAME: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
JERSEY: No. 23
RECRUITMENT RATING: 4-star
WT: 207 lbs
Range – Can cover a lot of ground, despite rarely playing deep in 2018. Speed in pursuit and ability to open up and run is noticeable on tape, could see that range as a deep safety more in 2017. Angles to the ball weren’t always consistent, but certainly showed the ability to work from middle-of-the-field to the sideline and at least deliver massive blows at the catch point, if not make plays on the ball.
Ball Skills – In 2018 played a lot of man coverage in the slot or underneath coverage in zone. We didn’t get to see a lot of deep zone ball skills, but flashed high-point and tracking ability in 2017. Flashes of instincts and processing in deep coverage allowed for some impressive peak plays on the ball. In man coverage, wish he was a little more successful at the catch point and anticipated route breaks a little quicker.
Man Coverage – Main frustration is consistency. Majority of the time, keeps his eyes harnessed to the receiver in off-man, breaking on routes in front of him with good fluidity and burst. Other times seems to lose discipline and lose the receiver with his eyes, allowing catches you’d like to see him close on. Has all the athletic traits and good technique in catch-man to re-route receivers from soft press. Physical at the top of routes in man. NFL teams may want to see him at outside corner, in which case he’ll have to perfect the timing of his hip turns. Had instances of opening too early to the sideline and allowing receivers to cross inside on him, but generally showed the ability to flip and mirror when that happened.
Fluidity/Agility – Pretty impressive out of his pedal. Not sloppy in his footwork the majority of the time. Will occasionally get into trouble over-rotating his hips in man coverage, but has the athleticism and fluidity to recover. Movement skills are a positive all-around, and when he plays at peak explosiveness, the results are deadly.
Tackling – Such an improved player in this area in 2018. In 2017, performance as a tackler was among the worst players I’ve ever scouted, from getting run over constantly to bailing out on tackles completely. This year, playing almost exclusively in the slot, maintained aggressiveness as a tackler while improving his angles and finishing rate. Loved his explosiveness to close on anything in the flat, and rarely missed stops this season. Occasionally still lets a tackle wriggle away or gets off-balance when committing to a stop, allowing an offensive player to finish through him. Has big-hitting ability that has flashed over the years, but needs to be more consistent.
Run Defense – Has always been pretty decent with his fills, but finishing and proper angles to the ball were weak in 2017 as a deep safety. Much-improved while playing closer to the line of scrimmage in 2018. Better angles and showed zero hesitation coming downhill as a tackler. Plays through blocks pretty well on the perimeter too.
Route Recognition – Several blown coverages against Georgia due to lack of awareness, poor technique or overaggressiveness. From off-man, can be a tad late to recognize patterns at times. Beaten on a slot fade vs LSU because he was late to flip his hips and transition vertically. Other times show excellent recognition, especially as a deep safety where he was not beaten over the top often.
Versatility – Outstanding versatility. One of the major reasons why CGJ will be a hot commodity in this draft class is because of his ability to play multiple positions at a high level. With tackling cleaned up, you feel a lot better about him in the box and in the slot, where he could be a mis-match eliminator against tight ends or bigger slot receivers. Has the range and ball skills to play deep as well, making him a true chess piece.
Competitive Toughness – Ask me in 2017, I’d have given him a low mark in this area. This season? CGJ had a couple pursuit plays he inexplicably dogged, but snap-to-snap he consistently brought a high level of intensity and physicality to the field in 2018. Heavy communicator who plays with a ton of energy and will chirp consistently. Has tone-setting potential when he’s fully-engaged.
Athleticism/Size – Outstanding size and frame. Rocked-up and ready to handle the rigors of the NFL. Looks like an impressive athlete with at least 4.5 speed, maybe 4.4. Should test really well and elevate his stock further.
BEST TRAIT – Range/Versatility
WORST TRAIT – Consistency
RED FLAGS – Occasional effort/physicality issues have flared up in past, but new coaching seems to have flipped a switch.
Gardner-Johnson is the perfect modern NFL safety except for one thing: all-around consistency as a player. If you looked at his 2017 tape, you’d have seen a train wreck as a run defender and tackler, but a promising playmaker in coverage. This year, he was a little inconsistent in coverage as a slot corner, but remarkably improved in his physicality and tackling.
The reality is that there will probably always be some level of variance to Gardner-Johnson as a player, but I don’t think his lows are that low if the tackling is cleaned up as it was this year, and his highs are pretty dang high. When you consider all that he can bring to a defense with his combination of size, athleticism, range, ball skills and versatility, CGJ is a slight gamble that I would feel just fine taking in Round 2. He can help a defense right away, whether as a true free safety or in a nickel corner capacity, and still has the upside to become a more consistent playmaker as his career continues.