Fans of the Group of Five got something to celebrate early in the 2022 NFL Draft as the New York Jets selected Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner fourth overall in the first round on Thursday night in Las Vegas.
A Detroit native and product of Martin Luther King High School, Gardner left Cincinnati after his junior season in which he helped lead the Bearcats to an appearance in the College Football Playoff, becoming the first G5 team to accomplish that feat.
At 6’3” and 200 pounds, Gardner should quickly prove to be a valuable piece of the defense in New York. In college, he never gave up a touchdown out of his 1,000‐plus career coverage snaps with just 13 catches for 117 yards allowed in 2021, per PFF College. Cincinnati’s pass defense ranked first nationally in pass efficiency allowed (100.47), fourth in opponent completions (53.5 percent), third in interceptions (18), fifth in TD passes allowed (10) and No. 3 in passing yards allowed (168.3). Gardner was the second AAC player to be unanimously selected as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
2021 also saw Gardner earn consensus All-American honors with first team selections by the Associated Press, AFCA, FWAA and Sporting News. This made him the first Cincinnati player to earn FWAA All‐America honors twice.
In 2021, Gardner had 35 tackles with three interceptions, three sacks and four pass breakups. The former three-star prospect had career‐high eight tackles against ECU in the Bearcats’ regular-season finale against East Carolina along with his third‐career touchdown came on a scoop‐and‐score, 60‐yard blocked field goal return. His others were pick‐sixes against UCF and ECU in 2019.
In Cincinnati’s playoff game against Alabama, Gardner allowed one catch for minus-two yards on two targets guarding the Tide’s leading receiver, Jameson Williams. Gardner wrapped that game with five tackles and one for a loss.