The breakout performance of cornerback Sauce Gardner was a highlight not only of the New York Jets 2022 NFL season, but of the entire NFL season. After being picked 4th overall, Gardner showed up, hit the ground running, and locked down seemingly every wideout that came his way en route to winning Defensive Rookie of the Year and being rated as Pro Football Focus’ #1 corner.
Putting up the kind of rookie season that allows for comparison to NFL Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis naturally lends itself to some high expectations. Accordingly, it might not be a surprise that some have criticized Gardner for not performing as well in 2023 as he did in 2022, especially when even he acknowledges that there is room for improvement.
However, that criticism ignores that Gardner is still among the NFL’s elite cornerbacks.
CB Separation Prevented through Week 5. pic.twitter.com/vs27eJNTMc— Jrfortgang (@throwthedamball) October 11, 2023
As shown here, Sauce has allowed opposing receivers the least amount of separation in the NFL (shoutout to fellow Jets cornerback Michael Carter 2 for coming in 2nd place). Beyond that, he’s doing it against some of the NFL’s best players, as shown by QBs still targeting him at an above average rate despite allowing little separation. Long story short, dude has been GOOD.
How good? Now that’s a different question. PFF ranked Sauce as the NFL’s best last season with a grade of 87.6. This season, he’s ranked 27 with a PFF grade of only 76.0. However, with separation stats like the one shown above, a positive regression to the mean is bound to happen sooner or later.
And when it does? Well that’s just going to be plain fun to watch.