Football Outsiders: Expect Sauce Gardner to produce as a rookie

The 2022 Football Outsiders Almanac is the ultimate way to prepare for the upcoming NFL season. It has full previews on all 32 teams. It is available for sale.

Cale Clinton wrote the Jets preview chapter and answered my questions about the team.

It’s no surprise that most of my questions relate to the expectations of young players. Over the past two seasons, the Jets have had an influx of top-notch young talent.

All these players have potential but lack experience. I think it’s important to set realistic expectations for each of them.

After focusing on offense in the first three questions, today I’m asking about rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner.

What would constitute a successful rookie season for Sauce Gardner?

That’s a high bar, sure, but Sauce Gardner should be able to show at least some flashes as the first cornerback on the roster. There’s nowhere the Jets’ pass defense can go but up. Their defensive DVOA of 29.0% in 2021 was the worst in the league last year; between the additions of Jordan Whitehead, DJ Reed and Gardner, the improved secondary was clearly a point of attention for New York this offseason. Gardner, however, is heir apparent. He practically called the shot himself, buying the No. 1 jersey number from Reed for $50,000. Now, I don’t think he’ll continue his three-year streak without allowing a touchdown from his Cincinnati days. In fact, there could be some growing pains when it comes to Gardner’s rookie season, especially if they give them as much responsibility as I expect. But he absolutely has the tools of an elite cornerback. His presence alone can make this list that much better, if only to push players like Byrce Hall and Brandin Echols an extra notch up the depth chart. The ultimate successful season, for me, would involve Gardner being able to consistently defend against a team’s best receiving option by the end of the year.

There’s no question the Jets think Gardner will eventually be their number one corner. Football Outsiders feels like a reasonable expectation for the first year.

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In some ways, the issue of a number one wedge is academic. Robert Saleh seems to be the type of coach who plays his corners to specific sides rather than having his top corner follow the other receiver. Perhaps that’s why the Jets have focused on adding top talent and improving the two outside corner positions this offseason. Still, it’s clear the team will depend on Gardner to stand up to the high-end receivers.

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