When debating the top cornerback in the 2022 NFL draft, you can’t have the conversation without mentioning Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner.
Known nationally by his nickname (“Sauce”), Gardner is coming off of one of the most impressive collegiate careers a cornerback has had in recent memory. A three-time first-team All-AAC who was a consensus first-team All-American in 2021, the shutdown corner finishes his time with the Bearcats having caused 9 interceptions and allowing not a single touchdown thrown his way in coverage.
As he prepares for the draft, Draft Wire had the chance to speak exclusively with Gardner about his pre-draft training with Exos, how he deals with the CB1 hype, his foray into NFTs with Dez Bryant, and much more.
JI: You’ve been doing some pre-draft prep over at Exos. How’s that going, and what are you looking to work on the most this offseason?
AG: That’s been going real well. I appreciate Exos and the people on staff, the PT, everyone. I’ve been mainly focusing on running as fast as I can [in the 40-yard dash]. I feel like we’ve been progressing, and it’s been looking real great for the future.
JI: While some taller cornerbacks can struggle with getting their hips low in coverage, that isn’t the case for you. What goes into maintaining that top-notch agility at your size?
AG: I just work on my mobility, flexibility. Usually somebody that’s about 6-2, 6-3, like you said, it might be a stiff, but I try to do things two times the amount that somebody half my size does, and I feel like it’s very beneficial to me and the way I play.
JI: Cincinnati played you on an island a lot, and you were able to shut down the best of the best. What goes into developing that mentality needed to play all alone out there?
AG: Confidence, man. You just got to have a lot of confidence, you know what I’m saying? Confidence will get you very far. [I’m] having a mentality that no one can stop you, so that way I’ll just be locked in and focused on what I got to do, regardless of who’s in front of me. I feel like that’s why I excel as a DB.
JI: It’s been a big year for you, and a big year for Cincinnati, being the first Group of 5 team to make it to the college playoff. What did that mean to you and the rest of the guys in that program?
AG: It meant a lot to me and the staff, to be a part of that. We felt like it was our time, you know, to get on that big stage. Even though we couldn’t bring it on, you know, it was still a blessing to be able to get to where we got.
JI: Take me through an average rep for you in coverage. The specifics vary, but what are you generally looking for pre-snap, and what are your first thoughts as the play develops?
AG: First, I watch a lot of film, so first thing I look at is the personnel and what kinds of route concepts and plays the other team like to run or certain personnels. If it’s two to the boundary, they might like smash, they might like the speed out. I just look at the personnel, and the personnel tells me everything I need to know. We’re in man-to-man coverage, then I dissect the film study and see what things the receiver likes to do, what kind of releases he likes to take.
JI: There’s been heated debate over the CB1 spot, and a lot of people think you’re the best cornerback in this draft. What separates you from the rest of the field?
AG: It starts with playing at Cincinnati. Basically. what we had going on, there was so much outside noise, and it basically just became innate to block everything out that’s going on outside of me, and it carried over to the CB1 debate. I don’t pay too much attention to it. I focus on myself. I’m not competing with nobody else. I focus on what I have to do for my family, and that’s all it’s about. Everything else on the outside, I don’t let it get to me.
JI: You’ve partnered with Personal Corner and Dez Bryant recently. For those who don’t know, what is your role in Personal Corner, and how does it feel to be collaborating with a legend like Dez?
AG: It feels good to be able to just hang out with him and chop it up with him. It feels very good. We got something coming in the future with NFTs, my personal brand of NFTs. I’m gonna be able to interact with my fans, create my brand some more, so I’m looking forward to it.
JI: That’s something more athletes are getting into, but it’s still in its early stages. How does it feel to be a trendsetter in that market?
AG: It feels very good [working with] Dez Bryant, former athlete. I loved what he was saying to me about it. It’s literally created by athletes, for athletes, so that’s what I like. It’s not like it was somebody that’s just in a business world, trying to act like they can understand and know what athletes go through. It’s actual athletes understanding what other athletes go through, so it’s very relatable. He can relate to me and other athletes who [are] on board. It’s just a blessing for the opportunity.
JI: Which cornerbacks have you grown up idolizing?
AG: I used to watch a lot of cornerbacks growing up, but now, I would say Jalen Ramsey. I talk to him really on the regular. I try to get him some pointers sometimes, even though he’s the best in the game, I’ll still be like, “Man what, he don’t notice this little small thing,” so I try to pitch in my two cents anytime I can. He don’t need to act like he knows everything, he’s willing to take. He’s like, “Yup, alright, I got you.” That’s why I like him as a person, not even just as a player. He’s like a sponge, man. He’s very humble, and he can be cocky, so I feel like I soak some of his game up, also.
JI: That must be awesome, chatting it up with one of the best in the game. How did that relationship come together?
AG: Yeah, it was a mutual thing. He posted on Twitter about me and Coby [Bryant], the other corner at Cincinnati. That’s when it went public, like, he’s rockin’ with Cincinnati and the DBs at Cincinnati.
JI: How do you like to spend your free time outside of football?
AG: I like playing “Call of Duty: Warzone,” and I go bowling here and there. I’m pretty good bowler. I haven’t won since I was in Cincinnati, but I really just play Warzone most of the time. That’s it.
JI: What’s the best you’ve ever bowled?
AG: I want to say 260.
JI: Wow. Have you been bowling for a long time?
AG: Yeah, I’ve been doing it since high school, like my senior of high school. Me and my boys who play football at Howard, Kansas or some of my other boys, we just go and whenever we all come back from college, I say we just go bowl. I got my bowling balls customized and everything, and they got my name on it and everything.
JI: Let’s say I’m an NFL general manager. What would I be getting if I drafted you to my team?
AG: A young leader, a sponge, just like I was just saying about Jalen Ramsey. Somebody that’s willing to soak up the game, take and receive information, and apply it to the game. Just somebody that’s willing to compete and work hard, so those are the main things things to me. Someone would have good, great sense of humor, a very great guy, and someone who’s not scared to be himself. I’m never trying to be different from what I am or who I am.