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.