How Ahmad Gardner, other rookies can impact New York Jets from Day 1
Ahmad "Sauce" introduced himself to college football on a Friday night in October 2019, when he scored on a 16-yard interception return that changed everything for himself and Cincinnati's program.
Facing 18th-ranked Central Florida, Gardner -- a freshman backup -- played "off" coverage at left cornerback, baiting quarterback Dillon Gabriel into throwing a hitch. Gardner broke quickly
He snatched his first interception with his 33 1/2-inch arms and glided into the end zone for the game-winning score. The Bearcats won the game, beginning a string of 29 straight games as a rank club
More than two years later, the New York Jets studied that play and others like it, marveling at Gardner's guile, chutzpah and physical skills. They made him the highest-drafted cornerback in team history (fourth overall)
For coach Robert Saleh, the images on his screen conjured up memories of a corner he coached with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers -- former All Pro Richard Sherman.
Gardner heads a seven-man draft class that is being hailed as one of the NFL's best. Time will tell, but with Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson (drafted 10th),
defensive end Jermaine Johnson II (26th) and running back Breece Hall (36th), the Jets have four players who should be major contributors immediately.
"You can see that he’s an outside-the-box thinker, he’s got great vision of the field, he’s a tremendous communicator (and he) can diagnose a play before it ever snaps," Saleh said of Gardner
"I’m not comparing, but just being with Sherm, I mean, the guy knew the play as soon as they broke the huddle. ... He’s playing a different game.
So Sauce has a tremendous mental makeup to him that allows him to see the game differently than what most players can."