Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (CB) Cincinnati — Draft Profile

Sauce Is the Name Most Commonly Linked to Vikings in 2022 NFL Draft
Ahmad Gardner

The Minnesota Vikings defense is in desperate need of an overhaul. The defensive unit went from a group that was shutting down offenses at a historic pace — to one that was a liability for the last few seasons. These problems have been widely publicized, which won’t be a rehash of said problems.

There is one problem that is worth repeating, the cornerback position. Since the departure of Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, the Vikings have had a rotating cast on the outside of their defense. In 2021, they struggled through the season with an oft-injured Patrick Peterson, a disappointing Cam Dantzler, and Bashaud Breeland. The last one needs no explanation. He was that frustrating for fans.

The Vikings’ new front office would do a lot of favors by selecting a high-level cornerback in the 2022 NFL Draft. That leaves essentially two options, Derek Stingley Jr from LSU and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner from the University of Cincinnati. We’ll get to Stingley, but today’s focus is on the Sauce.

Gardner played three solid seasons for the Bearcats and improved in every one. This culminated in Cincinnati snagging a spot in the College Football Playoffs in 2021. Gardner also snagged All-American first-team honors and was a unanimous AAC defensive player of the year selection.

 Over three seasons, Gardner recorded 99 total tackles, three and a half sacks, nine interceptions, 16 passes defended, and two defensive touchdowns. Perhaps most impressively, he never allowed a touchdown in 1,000+ coverage snaps and only allowed a total of 117 receiving yards.

Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Ahmad Gardner (1) celebrates a sack of Houston Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune (3) in the second quarter during the American Athletic Conference championship football game, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. Houston Cougars At Cincinnati Bearcats Aac Championship Dec 4

What Gardner brings to the table, and shows up on his film, is a freakishly long frame and great ball skills. He isn’t afraid to get up on receivers and jam them straight off the line, but he really thrives in off-man and zone coverages. Defending at the point of the catch is a strong point, and his long arms allow him to play around guys without having to go through them.

Ball hawking is a huge part of Gardner’s game, and he could be one of the greats when it comes to this. His natural timing and ability to put himself in position to have a right for the ball without drawing penalties is excellent. Once he gets the ball, he has his head up and is ready to run to the endzone. 

He has sufficient speed to stick with faster players but needs to learn to rely less on jersey tugs and holds. Penalties in transitions to run with a player are the biggest issue with Gardner’s game right now. He will need to work with his position coaches to defend without drawing penalties in the NFL.

I’d like to see him improve his tackling technique. He tends to catch and drag ball carriers down. The aggression to come up and make plays is there, but he may need to add some extra muscle, specifically in his legs, to give him the power to stop players at the point of attack.

If the Vikings want to snag the Sauce, they’ll need to hope that a defensive back needy team in front of them doesn’t jump at him. Gardner did himself a lot of favors with some solid Combine workouts. With the Seattle Seahawks now in the top ten mix after moving Russell Wilson, the Vikings have stiff competition for a guy who could be the best ball-hawking cornerback in the league in a few seasons. 

Projected Draft Position: Top-12

Measurements: 6’3″ 190lbs, 9 5/8″ hand size, 33 1/2″ arm length, 79 3/8″ wing span

Strengths: Arm length, Ball hawking

Weaknesses: Penalties, tackling

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