Expectations were high for NY Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner entering the NFL. After all, Gardner became the highest-drafted cornerback in franchise history when the team selected him fourth overall in this year's draft.
Many believed that Gardner had All-Pro potential, but most probably didn't expect him to reach an All-Pro level as a rookie. Yet, that's exactly what he's done.
Gardner is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL just nine games into his career, and his performance has many comparing him to Jets legend Darrelle Revis. In fact, you could certainly argue that Gardner has been better as a rookie than Revis was.
That was the sentiment shared by ESPN's Bill Barnwell who declared Gardner the favorite for the Defensive Rookie of the Year while insisting that the 22-year-old "is playing better than Revis did as a rookie."
It's hard to argue with that notion either.
NY Jets CB Sauce Gardner has been a top-5 player at his position this season
Gardner currently ranks third among all cornerbacks with an 86.1 Pro Football Focus grade and third with an 87.8 PFF coverage grade.
Among cornerbacks with at least 80 percent of their team's coverage snaps played, Gardner not only has the highest coverage grade, but he's also allowed the second-lowest completion percentage.
Gardner leads the league with 13 passes defended, is fourth in catches and yards allowed despite being targeted a whopping 46 times, and has allowed the third-lowest opposing passer rating.
His numbers get even more impressive when you look at his performance in man coverage. Gardner has been the best man-cover corner in the NFL this season, and it isn't particularly close.
PFF has Gardner allowing just four catches for seven yards in man coverage this season, easily the lowest total in the NFL. His five pass breakups in man coverage also lead the league while his 1.8 yards per catch allowed is six yards better than any other qualified cornerback.
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Gardner has generated 26.3 EPA as the nearest defender in coverage. Only one other cornerback in the NFL, James Bradberry, has amassed more than 20 EPA. That's how good Gardner has been.
Gardner is a top-five player at his position right now, and even that might be selling him short. Revis was very good as a rookie, but he didn't enter the top-10 conversation until his second season.
In fact, Revis didn't even receive any votes for the 2007 Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Barring an unexpected change, Gardner looks to be the odds-on favorite for the award this year even in a stacked class of defensive rookies.
Sauce Gardner isn't Darrelle Revis, but looking at just their rookie seasons, the former is indisputably better than the latter was at this point in their respective careers.
The Jets have an unquestioned superstar cornerback on their hands. The Darrelle Revis comparisons are early but valid.