The NFL draft is a few weeks away, but there’s a draft position prop on BetMGM’s board I’m taking right now before the line or price changes. I love this prop so much that just looking at it sends me into a classic cartoon tizzy of awooga eyes, heart-shaped heart beating out of my chest, and jaw on the floor with a staircase tongue flopping out. That prop is Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner draft position under 7.5 (-135).
Ballhawk don’t lie
Elite cornerbacks are a highly-valued rarity in the NFL. If your defensive lineman or edge rusher makes a mistake during a play, it’s usually not a huge deal. If your corner messes up — especially in man coverage — you’re suddenly watching the entire opposing receiving corps perform a choreographed Griddy in the end zone.
This is why we’ve seen corners like Jalen Ramsey, Denzel Ward, and Jeff Okudah all get drafted in the top five. They were special players in college who projected as potential shutdown corners in the pros.
What makes Gardner so special? A lot. The cornerback was targeted 138 times in his three seasons at Cincinnati, never allowing a touchdown. Quarterbacks had a 32.6 passer rating when targeting Gardner in his collegiate career. Last season, that passer rating was 26.1, as Gardner surrendered just 20 catches on 40 targets for 131 total receiving yards in 2021. Not even club soda can get this Sauce off your jersey.
Length and speed matter in the NFL, and the Bearcat has plenty of both. The 6-3 Gardner ran a 4.41 40, so he’ll have no problem competing vertically and horizontally. He’s -400 to be the first cornerback taken this year. Ryan McCrystal of Sharp Football ranks Gardner as the second-best player in the draft.
Who will scoop up Sauce?
All of the teams picking in the top 13 have a need at cornerback. For some of them, it’s a dire need. The four teams sitting at the top of the 2022 draft represent four of 2021’s five worst cornerback units, according to PFF. Gardner has been going to the Jets at number four overall in many recent mock drafts. It’s certainly possible that they’ll take him, but the most important factor to consider when making this type of bet is where the player’s floor is. I believe it’s the New York Giants at pick number seven.
Gardner’s fit into new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s system would be so perfect that I fully expect a light to shine down from heaven if he’s selected by the Giants. Martindale likes to blitz with his front seven, leaving his defensive backs manned up on opposing receivers. When he took over as defensive coordinator in Baltimore in 2018, the Ravens led the league in blitz rate (39.6%). They were first in 2019 (54.9%) and 2020 (44.1%), as well. Last season, they dropped down to sixth after their cornerback room was ravaged by injuries.
Gardner played press coverage on 76% of his coverage snaps in college. Derek Stingley Jr., who’s favored to be the second cornerback taken in the draft, played press coverage on 56% of coverage snaps. Drafting Gardner will allow Martindale to build and employ the type of defense he wants to run. With the Giants looking to get rid of corner James Bradberry and his $21.9 million cap hit, bringing Gardner in seems like an inevitability if he’s still available at the seventh pick.
Stingley’s draft position prop moved from 12.5 to 11.5 on the heels of his standout pro day, but I also like his under if it reverts back to 12.5. I could see Seattle taking him at nine, or some other team like the Texans or Eagles trading up to select him, but I really love having a floor of pick number 12, where the cornerback-needy Vikings are drafting.
Stats provided by Pro Football Reference, PFF, and spotrac.com.