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Football Outsiders: Expect Sauce Gardner to Produce as a Rookie

New York Jets Training Camp Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

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

Cale Clinton wrote the Jets preview chapter and has been answering my questions on the team.

It should come as no surprise that most of my questions are about expectations for young players. Over the last two seasons the Jets have had an influx of high end young talent.

All of these players have potential but lack experience. I think it is important to figure out realistic expectations for all of them.

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

What would constitute a successful rookie season for Sauce Gardner?

It’s a high bar, sure, but Sauce Gardner should be able to at least show flashes as the roster’s leading cornerback. There’s nowhere the Jets passing defense can go but up. Their 29.0% defensive passing DVOA in 2021 was the worst in the league last year; between the additions of Jordan Whitehead, D.J. Reed, and Gardner, improving the secondary was clearly a point of emphasis for New York this offseason. Gardner, however, is the heir apparent. He practically called his shot himself, buying the No. 1 jersey number off of Reed for $50,000. Now, I don’t think he’ll carry over his three-year streak of not allowing a touchdown from his days at Cincinnati. In fact, there might be some growing pains when it comes to Gardner’s rookie season, especially if they place as much responsibility on them as I expect them to. But he absolutely has the tools of an elite cornerback. His presence alone can make this roster much better, if only by pushing players like Byrce Hall and Brandin Echols an extra notch down the depth chart. The ultimate successful season, for me, would involve Gardner being able to consistently hold his own against a team’s top receiving option by the end of the year.

There is no question the Jets think Gardner eventually will be their number one corner. Football Outsiders makes it sound like it is reasonable to expect in year one.

In some ways the question of a number one corner is academic. Robert Saleh seems to be the type of coach who has his corners play specific sides rather than having his top corner follow the other receiver around. This might be why the Jets focused on adding top talent and improving both outside corner positions this offseason. Still it is clear the team will be depending on Gardner to hold up against high end receivers.