Expectations were high for Sauce Gardner when the NY Jets selected him fourth overall in this year's NFL Draft. Gardner became the highest-drafted cornerback in franchise history and was expected to immediately step into a prominent role on the team's defense.
There was plenty of hype around Gardner, but no one could have predicted the historic, meteoric rise that the former Cincinnati standout would undergo in his rookie season.
Just 12 games into his NFL career, Gardner already can make a very strong case to be considered the league's best cornerback. In fact, if you're looking at it from a statistical perspective, it's almost impossible to argue that he's not.
This is an individual who turned 22 years old just a few days before the start of the regular season. He's been in the NFL for less than three full months. Yet, he's already arguably the best player at one of the most important positions in the sport.
He hasn't just exceeded expectations. He's destroyed them.
Why NY Jets CB Sauce Gardner is the best in the NFL
Through the first 13 weeks of the season, Gardner ranks first in the NFL in Pro Football Focus coverage grade, first in catch percentage allowed, and first in overall pass breakups among cornerbacks with at least 30 coverage snaps.
He also ranks third in opposing passer rating, third in yards after catch allowed, third in yards allowed, and fourth in catches allowed. No other cornerback in the NFL boasts those kinds of numbers.
If that wasn't impressive enough, consider the fact that his 15.5 average depth of target is the highest among all qualified cornerbacks and that he's been targeted a whopping 57 times. The three players that have given up fewer catches have all been targeted no more than 33 times.
Teams are targeting Gardner at a super high rate, likely due to the presence of position-mate D.J. Reed. Not only that, but when they do target him, no cornerback has been tested downfield more than he has.
Despite this, he's statistically been the best cornerback in football. Reminder, this isn't some seven-year veteran playing in the prime of his career. This isn't a household name who's dominated the NFL for years.
This is a barely 22-year-old rookie with 12 games under his belt. This type of dominance this early in a career is downright unheard of. What we've seen from Gardner this season has, quite literally, been historic.
Even players like Marshon Lattimore, Tre'Davious White, Denzel Ward, and even Casey Hayward, who all had incredible rookie seasons in their own right, don't match up to what Gardner has done this season.
We're witnessing a generational talent perform at a level that shouldn't be possible this early in his career. Sauce Gardner is special — he's already the best cornerback in the NFL.