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.
Coverage Spacing –Has dynamic mobility and his twitchiness allows him to overlap or cross face against defenders from the nickel. He’s a little lax against vertical shots when rolled into contact window. Effective in off coverage to click and close.
Acceleration –Burst is strong in all degrees of range of motion. Sudden backpedal. His bucket step and explosive COD forward flash immediately. Long speed is good and has range to play a greater area of volume on the back end than he was tasked at school.
Tackling –Notably improved from 2017 campaign, although there are still some lapses in contact balance present and over-eagerness to leave feet. Really powerful, confident hitter who can deliver tone setting blows. Little issue challenging backs out of the backfield or receivers.
Zone Coverage Skills –Love his work in shallow zones. Aggressive and shows good peripheral vision to pick up routes breaking behind initial stems (Idaho/Michigan 2018). Doesn’t get married to the first receiver to arrive in his vision. Takes good angles from far drive point to meet ball.
Ball Skills –Picks up the ball out of the quarterback’s hand really well in zone coverage, his explosiveness carries him into easy challenges of the football when he’s reading the play properly. Hasn’t been tasked to work through the hands of receivers at the catch point often.
Competitive Toughness –One of the hottest running motors I’ve seen in the class. Hustle player who has challenged far sideline runs vs. man coverage and beat closer proximity teammates to the play. Explosive power and carries a lot of force in his contact.
Flexibility –Natural athlete, his hips show no limitations in looking to pivot, turn or work back to the LOS after opening himself another direction. Dynamic base and shows ease to redirect himself thanks to far reaching feet on the move.
Feet/Change of Direction –At his best when breaking out of his pedal to break towards the ball. He’s a twitchy, sudden athlete who can pick his way through traffic with quickness and dart to daylight to cut under blocks or cross the face of receivers in man coverage.
Man Coverage Skills –Can be a risky proposition in Cover-0, as he likes to hunt the ball and can be teased with double moves working vertically. His foot speed, physicality and acceleration skills provide him with a strong, promising profile for m2m coverage.
Versatility –Will make plays all over the field. Liked his work to carry vertical stems in underneath zone and take away windows. Can play man. Effective blitz player and run defender off of the edge. Can be aligned and make positive plays on all three levels of the defense.
BEST TRAIT –Versatility
WORST TRAIT – Consistency
BEST FILM – Michigan (2018)
WORST FILM – Kentucky (2018)
RED FLAGS – None
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson projects as a true game changing defender at the NFL level. Gardner-Johnson has been featured in the nickel and as pressure safety with the most frequency, both areas that he can play at a high level. With elite short area explosiveness and aggressiveness, Gardner-Johnson creates a ton of splash plays by driving forward and playing in attack mode. His role as a deep iso-defender is one that will need time and patience.
Coverage – Has all the physical traits to excel in man coverage in terms of quickness, long speed and fluidity but still needs some consistency with mirroring and anticipating routes. Played a ton in the slot in 2018 and he did well to handle physicality in the contact window and at the top of routes. Highly effective short zone defender with an astute understanding of spacing. Excels at reading the backfield and squeezing throwing lanes.
Tackling – Night and day difference from 2017 to 2018. Love how quickly he commits to attack downhill and explode into contact. Can stand to improve his wrap up technique as he often looks to chop down ball carriers. Contact balance and power is excellent when he is square.
Processing – Diagnoses plays rapidly and is highly instinctive when playing forward against the run and quick game. Understands his keys, commits in pursuit and takes good angles. Needs to become more consistent recognizing routes in man coverage to make him a more effective when mirroring. Spacing and technique in zone is outstanding.
Ball Skills – Does well to read the backfield, track the football and close which leads to opportunities at the catch point to disrupt in zone coverage. More consistency anticipating route breaks should lead to more chances to break on the football when he is tested in man coverage. Has shown the ability to finish and there were times on tape that the ball found him. To his credit, he stayed engaged and made the play.
Range – Has outstanding range and takes astute angles to the football. Sees the field well and gets ahead of blocks. Finds his way to the ball and plays off and around contact effectively. Click and close ability is exceptional.
Physicality – Was often tasked with slot duties, playing close to the line of scrimmage and showcased and urgent and physical style of play. Regularly used as a pressure player. Holds his own in the contact window and at the top of routes with receivers/tight ends that invite contact. Good hitting power and contact balance.
Play Speed – Plays fast in terms of processing and movement although there is some variance in terms of processing accuracy. Can cover considerable ground and rapidly close down distances. Has the quickness and speed to match steps in man coverage.
Flexibility – Fluid and twitchy. Smooth mover with clean transitions and rapid change of direction ability. Dynamic ability to plant and drive. Explosive mover with no hesitation or segmentation.
Versatility – Can fill multiple roles for a defense. Reps in single high revealed a reliable centerfielder with good range and the ability to track the football. Short zone coverage skills are excellent. Has all the physical ability needed to win in man coverage. Love how he processes and attacks the run.
BEST TRAIT – Versatility
WORST TRAIT – Variance
RED FLAGS – None
Gardner-Johnson is a highly versatile defensive back that can fill numerous roles for an NFL defense and allow for more scheme diversity. He is a standout zone defender whether it’s single high or split zones. He features the physical traits needed to mirror routes in man coverage and excels near the line of scrimmage with box duties. While there is some variance, his improvements from 2017 to 2018 give indication that he still has room to grow. CGJ is a true swiss army knife that profiles as a productive starter that is deployed in multiple ways in the NFL.