Just when you think you know a guy, you turn on his 2018 tape and he absolutely blows you away. Anyone who has scouted for any length of time knows the feeling, and I've fallen victim to the latest of the late bloomers. I'm talking about Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who had himself one hell of a season this past year.
Entering the 2018 college season, I knew of Gardner-Johnson and felt that while yes, he had a lot of promising athleticism, he also was sorely lacking in a lot of key areas. Most specifically? His discipline in coverage and his tackling skills in one on one situations in the open field.
Now? After five games of his 2018 college season, I'm ready to change my tune. The Gators used Gardner-Johnson in a lot of different ways this past season and his versatility and explosive qualities were a bigger part of the Gators' defensive identify than I'd originally realized.
The tackling issues that loomed in Gardner-Johnson's game in 2017? They were greatly mitigated this past season. There was patience, balance and confidence in wrap up situations.
In coverage, Chauncey spent a lot of time in the intermediate areas. There, he was able to key quarterbacks in underneath zone and found himself constantly floating around the football.
Consider me impressed. But in a Safety group that's waiting for a few prospects to rise to the top, where does that leave him? Delaware's Nasir Adderley, Alabama's Deionte Thompson, Iowa's Amani Hooker, Virginia's Juan Thornhill and others are all challenging for slots among the top five in the 2019 Safety class.
There's now one less space on that list to accommodate: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is undoubtedly a top five Safety in this class. The versatility stands out, but so too does that suddenness and violence he can generate in short spaces.
I liked a lot of what I saw from Iowa's Amani Hooker. Hooker played a lot of cover-2 and also spent a fair amount of time inside 15-yards, playing shallow zones. And while Hooker was more consistent in coverage, Gardner-Johnson is much more dynamic as an athlete and has the arrow pointing firmly up after such a strong season.
I felt that Deionte Thompson's average season was amplified with a poor last impression in the Championship Game, which is why so many are down on him now. There's plenty to like in Thompson's game. But he's not Eddie Jackson.
At this juncture, I expect Gardner-Johnson to easily out-perform both Thompson and Hooker at the 2019 NFL Combine and solidify his standing as Safety #2 in this year's NFL Draft class.
I think Delaware's Nasir Adderley is still the cream of the crop. But having watched each of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Deionte Thompson and Amani Hooker in the last few days, it's pretty clear that only one has the versatility, explosiveness and ball skills combination to really move the needle for NFL franchises.
Add in such a significant step forward under a new coaching staff at Florida in 2018? That's a mighty fine combination. It's also one that will have teams buying in on him as an ascending player.
My sincerest apologies, CGJ. You, my friend, are a stud.