2022 NFL draft scouting report: Cincinnati CB Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner

·4 min read

Cincinnati CB Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner

6-foot-3
190 pounds

Yahoo Sports' 2022 NFL draft grade

6.58 — certain first-round pick; immediate-impact prospect

Here's how we use our prospect grades for the 2022 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Here's how we use our prospect grades for the 2022 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

TL;DR scouting report

Savvy, cocksure and lean-framed corner with outstanding length and history of shutting down most opponents he's faced

The skinny

A 3-star Rivals recruit out of the Detroit area in 2019, Gardner committed to the Bearcats after most of the bigger midwest programs looked elsewhere. He earned immediate playing time as a true freshman, however, and made some game-changing plays (three INTs, two pick sixes) as a starter down the stretch. In 2020, Gardner intercepted three more passes, with nine passes defended in nine games, earning various All-America mentions. Last season, he picked off three passes again, also making 40 tackles (five for losses), three sacks, seven passes defended, one forced fumble and one blocked-FG return for a 60-yard TD. Gardner declared early for the 2022 NFL draft following Cincinnati's playoff loss to Alabama.

Cincinnati's Ahmad
Cincinnati's Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner (1) is our CB1 of this class. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Upside

  • Ideal length at 6-3 with 33 1/2-inch arms

  • Feisty, competitive man-coverage approach

  • Might have more press-man experience than any corner in this draft

  • Active hands in press coverage to disrupt receivers off the line

  • Natural instincts for the position — looks like he was born to play that demanding a position

  • Very good spatial awareness in coverage — uses sideline well and has innate feel for how much cushion he can get away with

  • Edgy confidence — believes he's the best at what he does

  • Talker on the field — will chatter with opponents and try to gain mental edge before first snap

  • Threat with the ball in his hands — three career TD returns

  • Cut down on penalties in final season (only flagged twice)

  • Never allowed a TD on his watch in college

  • Receivers caught 43% of balls targeted his way over three seasons

  • Targeted only 37 times in nearly 500 pass-coverage snaps in 2021 — even Alabama didn't test him much

  • Stays engaged in game even when he's not targeted for long stretches

  • Limited YAC in 2021 — improved body position, became more reliable tackler

  • Very effective in condensed spaces, namely red zone

  • Showed some blitz potential in final season, especially down the stretch

  • Took more snaps in the slot last year and could be tried as matchup piece vs. certain receiving tight ends

Downside

  • Cockiness can rub some the wrong way — will he handle tough coaching?

  • Too handsy in coverage his first two seasons; flagged combined 12 times

  • Off-man technique requires refinement

  • Will panic and tug on jerseys when receivers gain a step on him

  • Struggled a bit vs. short-area quickness of Memphis' Calvin Austin III

  • Too upright in stance, which makes it harder to change directions readily

  • Skinny ankles and underdeveloped lower half

  • Tackles too high at times and will misfire at target zone

  • Didn't display freshman-year playmaking ability with ball in his hands past two seasons

  • Somewhat clunky and segmented in his transitions

  • Can he handle NFL vertical receivers in man coverage? Deep speed remains a question

  • Might not be a true slot CB option in NFL

  • Didn't work out at NFL combine

Best-suited destination

Gardner is a classic press corner or cover-3 defender with ideal length and instincts for the position. His stock only has simmered to a boil the past year-plus, and he's now expected to be a high pick. A team such as the New York Giants would love this type of corner, but so would nearly every team in the NFL for that matter.

Did you know

Gardner wore No. 12 early in his Bearcats career but switched to No. 1 — with the reveal video titled, "A1 Sauce." Now "Sauce" is perhaps the most famous nickname in the entire 2022 NFL draft class.

Player comp

There's some real Nnamdi Asomugha vibes to Garner's game, but for a more recent comp, he's similar size- and body-wise to Ahkello Witherspoon.

Expected draft range

Top 15 pick, perhaps even cracking the top five