With a nickname like “Sauce”, you have to have some extra flavor to your game, right? A standout corner for the undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats, the 6-foot-2, 188-pound Ahmad Gardner brings the pop, desired length, and alpha mentality NFL scouts drool over in their outside defenders.
Statistically, Gardner is one of a kind. Since 2019, he has yet to allow a touchdown, scored three of his own, and has a passer rating allowed of 35.3. For context, spiking a ball in the dirt nets a rating of 39.6. And since the start of last fall, the Detroit, Michigan native has allowed just 19 catches on 48 targets, zero touchdowns, and has three picks. This season for the No. 4-ranked Bearcats, Gardner has allowed just four receptions and has recorded 187 coverage snaps without allowing a completion of 15 yards or longer. If the stats and analytics say anything, he’s been nothing short of spectacular. And moving forward, his skill set as a premier outside corner has become as enticing as any apex defender in the class.
With ideal length and athleticism at the position, Gardner’s competitiveness has allowed him to dominate his opponent’s will before the snap. Couple his quick-twitch ability with his explosive lower half and active hands, and Gardner’s stock has continued to rise as the Bearcats compete for their first College Football Playoff berth.
Per TDN’s own Joe Marino, Gardner is:
“Highly effective at creating jams at the line of scrimmage in press coverage. His length increases his margin for error and he’s comfortable playing from the trail. Can be trusted in man coverage and he’s mostly sticky staying connected to routes. Highly physical player in coverage. Exceptional run defender and outstanding tackler. Thrives in a variety of techniques including man, press, and zone. Fairly loose for a longer corner and he has quick transitions. Ball production has been outstanding and he showcases the ability to drive forward on the football and make plays with his back to the football.”
Similar to last year’s high-profile cornerback class that saw South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn and Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II come off the board before the No. 10 overall selection, the 2022 class presents an exciting crop of boundary athletes with the tools and floor to where it wouldn’t be a surprise if a handful of defensive backs were taken before the end of night one. From LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. to Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. to Florida’s Kaiir Elam, Gardner’s status among the country’s elite secondary prospects has been solidified, but his ceiling compared to his classmates looks unlimited, which in turn invites an intriguing projection for Gardner when scoping his ideal scheme fit at the next level.
A primary man-cover corner with elite mirroring ability where receivers are quickly constricted due to his length, a defense that allows him to work near the LOS in both man and zone will quickly reap the rewards of Gardner’s ever-developing skill set. Whether it’s his ability to T-step and close or his nastiness at the catch point, Gardner leaves little room for wideouts to breathe.
With his pros, however, come his cons—while they drastically outweigh each other, he isn’t perfect. Comparably to Horn and Surtain where you could have taken them off of their college rosters and inserted them into an NFL defense last fall due to their highly polished game, Gardner gets a bit handsy at times and can be susceptible to pass interference penalties, which is the easiest way to find yourself benched at the pro level. And while it’s much easier to adjust a corner from being overly physical rather than vice versa, his length, at times, hurts his production.
An in-your-face type of corner, Gardner provides a throwback style of pop and mentality to his game that has him highly touted in our TDN100 rankings early this fall. With nowhere to go but up within an active, aggressive defense at Cincinnati, Gardner’s enticing ability has him sky-rocketing up draft boards.