Ahmad Gardner Scouting Report

Cincinnati Bearcats DB Ahmad Gardner Scouting Report
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Background

“Sauce” is a cornerback from Cincinnati and a prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft. Let’s dive into the Ahmad Gardner scouting report.

Gardner hails from Detroit, Michigan where he played wide receiver and cornerback in high school. As a senior, he helped lead his team to a state championship. He was a consensus three-star recruit and a top-40 player in Michigan. Gardner earned scholarship offers from Cincinnati, Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, Syracuse, and most of the schools in the MAC. 

Gardner chose Cincinnati and earned playing time early. As the 2019 season progressed, the true freshman played more every week. After seven games, he finally broke into the starting lineup and never looked back. Gardner started the final six games and earned 1st-Team All-AAC honors along with several Freshman All-American nods. In 2020, he played in all but the bowl game, and started all but one game; he earned All-AAC 1st-Team and All-American again. 

Gardner took his game to another level in 2021, earning AAC Defensive Player of the Year (unanimously), All-AAC 1st-Team, and consensus All-American honors. In three seasons, with 1124 coverage snaps and 138 targets, he never allowed a touchdown. During the 2021 season, Gardner only allowed 20 catches on 40 targets for 131 yards, with the longest reception going for only 17 yards. 

Statistics

Career Stats: 36 GP, 28 GS, 99 tackles (68 solos), 5.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 24 passes defensed, 9 interceptions, 32.6 NFL passer rating when targeted, 14 penalties. 

2021 Stats: 14 GP/GS, 40 tackles (28 solos), 5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 4 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, 26.1 NFL passer rating when targeted, 2 penalties. 

2021 PFF Grades (20% snap minimum): 87.1 Defense (t-7th), 77.8 Run Defense (73rd), 70.9 Tackling (t-155th), 78.5 Pass Rush (40th), 87.2 Coverage (10th). 

Ahmad Gardner Scouting Report

Strengths

  • Elite build with exceptionally long arms and very good height; muscularly built, but not overly so. 
  • Great athletic ability with excellent long speed, explosiveness, change of direction, and agility. Surprisingly smooth for a corner with his build and length. 
  • Very good line of scrimmage skills, using length to gain an immediate advantage in press-jam. Good strike power and placement to shock receiver and disrupt route. Mirrors releases very well with quick feet and fluid hips, displaying excellent patience at the line.
  • Comfortable playing in trail technique against most routes. He uses his long strides and speed to quickly eliminate separation, and long arms allow him to deflect passes/affect the catch point from further distance. 
  • Drastically improved zone awareness and understanding of spacing in 2021; read concepts better to remain equidistant from targets and prevent throws. Quickly reads concepts and triggers well to go after the ball and the receiver. 
  • Very good in man coverage, utilizing superior athleticism and length to prevent and minimize separation. Has a great understand of leverage and how to stay in the hip pocket of his opponent; great hip fluidity allows him to mirror receivers without fully turning to get vertical. 
  • Good ball skills, using length to disrupt passes with good timing. Three interceptions every season, displaying good ball tracking with surprisingly decent hands for a CB. 
  • Willing (perhaps not enthusiastic) tackler, with length allowing him to close quickly and present wide tackling radius.
  • Length allows him to be a blitzing weapon from the boundary, as he can cover ground quickly and affect the quarterback. 

Weaknesses

  • Not as fluid when making diametrically opposed cuts (backpedal to come downhill); long legs can get caught and force him to stop for a beat before re-accelerating. 
  • Occasionally beaten by quick in-breaking routes when in press, especially with outside leverage.
  • Gets a bit too aggressive with hands; observant officials could flag him frequently. 
  • Offensive linemen and tight ends can get the better of him in run support, as they can overwhelm him with strength/power. 

Summary

Ahmad Gardner looks like he was built in a laboratory to play in the modern NFL. He has insane length, which he uses to dominate at the line of scrimmage and break up passes downfield. Gardner is an exceptional athlete who can succeed in any type of coverage assignment.

The flaws in his game are very minuscule and any team would be lucky to add him to their roster. He has some issues with being too aggressive and handsy, which could lead to penalties. Furthermore, he will need to adjust to different field dimensions that aren’t so advantageous to him. 

In the NFL, Gardner would be best in a defensive scheme that heavily leans on man coverage assignment and press-jam techniques at the line of scrimmage. He can be an asset in any defensive scheme, but an aggressive approach would take advantage of his unique gifts and skillset. Even if Gardner gets beat, he has the speed, length, and discipline to recover quickly to minimize separation. 

The scouting report on Ahmad Gardner paints a picture of a player who can contribute — and even start — immediately. He is in the running for the best cornerback in this class and is among the top fifteen overall players. On the right team and in the right defense, Gardner could be a Pro Bowl-level player immediately, and be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL for years to come. 

Grade: 8.0/10

Comparison: Antonio Cromartie (2006, R1 #19, San Diego Chargers)

Author: Mitchell Wolfe

Scouting Academy Graduate, 2020 Boston College, 2017 Temple University (Master of Sport Business), 2021

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