Not all rookies burst onto the scene in the NFL. Some take two to three years to get their feet wet, even if they were selected in the first round.
Then there’s the other side of the coin — the freaks and monsters that defy the odds from day one on the job. Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay set out to determine those instantaneous success stories when looking at this 2022 rookie class, limiting himself to five NFL selections that he believes will “emerge as superstars early in their careers.”
One New York Jets prospect did make this exclusive list, cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner.
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Gardner Will Be ‘Making Big Plays From Day 1’
“Gardner wasn’t the first defender or even the first cornerback to come off the board in the 2022 draft, but the Cincinnati product is dripping with superstar potential,” Kay began. Continuing:
The 6’3″, 200-pound defensive back is brimming with confidence and possesses the skill set to back it up. Gardner showed plenty of playmaking skills with three interceptions in each of his three seasons as a starter for the Bearcats. He’s also a well-rounded corner, as evidenced by his top-10 Pro Football Focus grade in both coverage and run defense as a junior in 2021… Gardner appears to be a surefire starter for this revamped Gang Green defense as he gears up for his first training camp. He’s perfectly set up to excel in this role thanks to his otherworldly athleticism and immense talent while playing a position where rookies with these traits tend to thrive. The 21-year-old already gave a sneak peek at his abilities during minicamp, which he punctuated with a pick-six on the final day.
Let me first clarify that, no — Kay’s five-player group did not include all five of the top selections in the 2022 NFL draft. The only other member of the draft’s top-five that he chose in his article was edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson.
Stardom is no easy feat but instant stardom? That’s something few athletes achieve.
As Kay notes, Gardner’s mix of ability, confidence and placement within a good coaching system set him apart from most prospects. The Jets also need a shutdown cornerback in the worst way, as they’ve struggled to rebuild at the position since the days of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
Kay concluded: “While Gardner isn’t a Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite—he’s currently in a four-way tie for the sixth-best odds at +1000—the Jets cornerback will be locking down his marks and making big plays from Day 1.”
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Gardner Leads Rookie Race
Admittedly, this isn’t a fair contest until the pads come on but the No. 4 overall pick has looked the part and led this rookie class so far this spring.
Beat reporter Connor Hughes noted that “there’s no denying how talented Gardner is” after he replaced an injured D.J. Reed Jr. for the bulk of minicamp and most of his classmates have yet to steal the spotlight — which is no cause for concern.
The Jets ran a passing camp this spring so prospects like Jermaine Johnson II, Breece Hall, Micheal Clemons and Max Mitchell haven’t truly been given the opportunity to show off in front of media and fans. Tight end Jeremy Ruckert has also been sidelined with a foot ailment.
First-round wide receiver Garrett Wilson was Gardner’s main competition in the “rookie race” to stardom this spring, but the Ohio State product was a little slower to develop in the early stages.
Wilson supposedly spent the summer break training, studying, and taking reps with Zach Wilson at private workouts, so we’ll find out if he bridged the gap in training camp. As of now, it’s the Sauce show at Florham Park.