PFT’s 2022 defensive rookie of the year: Sauce Gardner

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The Jets had the worst defense in the league in 2021 and part of their plan to remedy that involved using the fourth overall pick of this year’s draft on cornerback Sauce Gardner.

Gardner’s mix of size, strength, and athleticism had made him a shutout corner at Cincinnati and the Jets’ hope was that he’d develop into one at the professional level as well. They didn’t have to wait long for Sauce to be ready.

Gardner did a good job on Ravens tight end Mark Andrews in Week One and then went on to be a main factor in holding players like Ja'Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson, and Stefon Diggs below their usual standards in other games. There would be long stretches where quarterbacks avoided Gardner’s side of the field and throwing his way resulted in low passer ratings, completion percentages and postive results.

By the end of the year, Gardner had been selected for the Pro Bowl and he’s a strong contender for All-Pro status as he quickly rose to the top of the ranks of cornerbacks with all levels of experience. He finished the year with a league-high 20 passes defensed and also recorded 75 tackles and two interceptions as the Jets went from the bottom of the league’s defenses to being one of the toughest units in the league with Gardner’s work in pass coverage helping the pass rush find success.

It didn’t prove to be enough for the Jets to make the playoffs, but the defense remained stout as the offense fell apart in the final weeks and kept the Jets alive through Week 17.

That total package is why PFT has selected Gardner as our defensive rookie of the year for the 2022 season.

While Gardner took the top spot, there were other worthy standouts on defense. Second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson played a huge role in the Lions’ turnaround and capped the year with two sacks of Aaron Rodgers in a Week 18 win. Safety Kerby Joseph helped settle the back end in Detroit and pass rusher James Houston also starred for the Lions down the stretch. All three provide reason to believe that this year is just the start of good times in Detroit.

Seahawks cornerback Tariq Woolen led the league with six interceptions and helped Seattle make it back to the playoffs. Giants edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux will also be in the postseason and his play against the Commanders in late December was a big part of getting the team to the postseason. Safety Jalen Pitre looked like a building block for the Texans and Jaquan Brisker provided some reason for hope with his safety play in Chicago.

As good as those players were, Gardner stood out in 2022.

52 responses to “PFT’s 2022 defensive rookie of the year: Sauce Gardner

  1. Way to go out on a limb with this selection! Yes, a no-brainer. An amazing player who lives up to the hype.

  2. Remember when everyone said he was too slight, and the only reason he had good stats in college was because he played against inferior opponents? And the Texans taking an often injured Stingley over him reminds us why they’re always gonna be drafting in the top 5.

  3. Hard to argue with sauce.

    I would like to add, was kinda cool as a Michigan native to see DROY basically come down to AH or SG – both Michigan natives.

  4. Aiden Hutchinson- 9.5 sacks and 3 interceptions. All 3 interceptions were dropping back in coverage, not tipped balls at the line. First Rookie DL in league history with 3 interceptions! Also double teamed every almost every play. Also excellent against the run.

  5. Should be Aiden Hutchinson. He was impactful in every way and even had more INTs as a DL than Sauce who is a CB for cripes sake. You shouldn’t get DROY just because QBs avoided throwing your way. AH is the no-brainer here.

  6. Best CB there since Revis. Too bad he plays for such a choking franchise, that goes thru 1st round QBs like toilet paper.

  7. What a joke. Gardner was outplayed by Woolen (my pick) and Hutchinson. The only reason he’s winning is because he plays in NY.

  8. This shows some serious East Coast Bias. Tariq Woolen had 3x as many INT’s as Sauce 6 vs 2, allowed less yards, less yards after contact, allowed less completion percentage to opposing QB’s, and kept QB’s to a 48.7 QBR when targeting him, vs Sauce’s 62.7 and it’s a shame Woolen’s just an honorable mention. He was by far the better Corner, and should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year.

  9. It’s Sauce, then Hutch, then the rest. I think Hutch vs Sauce is a coin flip, and both players were schemed to avoid all year.

    Hutch’s stat line feels more impressive than Sauce’s implied value. However, Sauce is a clear shut down corner, something underappreciated in the NFL.

    Since it’s so close, you know the tie will go to the bigger market team, and Sauce will get the award. Both the Lions and the Jets are turning a corner though. If the Jets figure out their QB situation, they will be very good very soon. All the other pieces are falling into place.

    The Lions just need a few more pieces on defense, and with 5 picks in the top 90 this year in the draft and likely around 50M to spend after cutting Romeo Okwara, Brockers, and Big V… their defense should be extremely better.

    These 2 guys will be catalysts for the future, regardless of who wins the award.

  10. I’m a big Lions fan. Love that Hutchinson looks like the real deal and I’m glad to have a bunch of young studs. But DROY is easily Sauce. It’s not even close. The guy shut down one half the field in every game. If not for Parsons and Bosa you could make a case he was the over all defensive player of the year.

  11. Heck of a player in a year with plenty of competition for recognition.

    If he stays healthy, he has the size, athletic tools and smarts/attitude to be a HoF’er.

  12. Anyone who says it anybody but Sauce has zero football knowledge. Hutchinson had a great season, but Sauce is on a different level at a position that is among the toughest in the league to play, let alone play as a rookie.

  13. Bottle that sauce and get the rest of the DBs slathering it on themselves, this guy is the real deal

  14. Some years more than one guy is worthy. Hutch is a great player, and his numbers and impact were as good as or better than Parsons, Chase Young, and the Bosa brothers, all recent winners.

    Woolen will feel robbed, bc he’s having an incredible season. But it’s tough when a guy like Gardener walks on and immediately plays like the best corner in football, and does it all season long.

  15. Great article hit the nail on head
    Im alil bias but its not even close DROY
    Since week1(andrews-18(hill)

  16. Hutchinson could’ve had 40 sacks and it wouldn’t have mattered. The media had their collective minds made up on this months ago.

    Nothing to see here…

  17. Per Pro Football Reference, Sauce Gardner has 2 interceptions, 20 passes defended, 51 solo tackles, and 1 QB hit. By comparison, Tariq Woolen has 6 interceptions with 1 returned for TD, 16 passes defended, caused 1 fumble, recovered 3 fumbles, 46 solo tackles, and no QB hits. Woolen beats Gardner in my book. But, Hutchinson would be my pick for DROY, considering his direct impact on opposing QBs (9.5 sacks and 15 QB hits).

  18. The New York hype machine is undefeated. The Jets not so much.
    Hutchinson and Woolen both had bigger impacts on their team but don’t have cool nicknames or a media centre that promotes their players well beyond their actual play.
    Good rookie, greater hype.

  19. Gardner has been a very good player. For his sake I hope he gets away from that organization early enough in his career to experience some playoff success with real NFL teams and organizations.

  20. twittajohnny says:
    January 10, 2023 at 3:26 pm
    Uncalled PI every play.

    I see this whined about all the time. If he doesn’t get called for it, but others do, is it possible that he’s doing it better than everyone else?

  21. I watched JETS-JAGS and Seahawks-JETS. Sauce is a shutdown corner but had 0 impact on the game. Jags scored and played with the JETS anyway they wanted. They didn’t need to target Sauce because everything else was working and they moved the ball at will. Seahawks have fewer weapons on offense but still did what ever they wanted with Sauce on the field. You can argue he is an All pro but either Hutchinson or Woolen had more of an impact on the games then Sauce.

  22. Hutch over Sauce. In fact, go look at the specifics and you will see Sauce played against these star WR’s that were using 2nd and 3rd string QBs in those games. Not as impressive when said player was not even targeted due to the game plan and nothing he did to defend. He is already a stud, but Lion’s Hutchinson was a key player with more impressive stats.

  23. Josh Allen twice -interception to win game
    Trevor Lawrence
    Aaron Rodgers
    Geno Smith
    Jared Goff
    Joe Burrow
    Pretty sure these aren’t 3rd stringers

  24. “You shouldn’t get DROY just because QBs avoided throwing your way.” – a confused person who doesn’t like the jets

  25. How many INTs does he have?? To say he shut down certain WR is sorta hard to buy into that when going against Hill and Waddle Miami had their 3rd string rookie QB taking snaps. Same could be said for the other teams that went against him. Sure he is a solid CB but look at the tape, he holds on just about every play and gets away with DPI pretty often.
    Hutch has more INTs as a DE and deserves the award IMO.
    Sauce has hyped himself up to be talked about and when that happens it typically means pro bowls and awards due more to name recognition then it does for the plays on the field.

  26. The Jags missed it with Aidan Hutchinson, Travon Walker is a good looking player but there is a gap between both

  27. Tariq Woolen beats Gardner, statistically, in nearly every single DB metric there is. Beats him easily, too. How can one rookie outperform another rookie by such a large margin and NOT win the ROY award? I want someone to explain this to me using facts and stats, not “he just plays at a higher level.”

  28. You’re just looking at Interceptions. Pro Football focus grades every category and Gardner is the clear #1, followed by Surtain and Ramsey. Jets also had toughest schedule in the league, Seattle was 19th. Haters call it hype; the numbers don’t lie.

  29. Gardner was good and very slick with his holding;

    he had none of the game-changing effect of Hutchinson;

  30. Well, a New York rookie, who had a very good season, is DROY. Not shocked. Playing in media centers always has an advantage.

    Hutchenson set records. More sacks than the Bosa’s. Yeah, it’s close because they are both excellent players, but when one SETS the bar, that kinda means something, doesn’t it?

  31. Lets remember that Tua was not playing when he was covering Hill or Waddle.

  32. I didn’t watch Sauce but based on some comments maybe he wasn’t as good as the other Jets CB’s were bad. If the receivers you aren’t assigned to cover are always open it’s easy to not give up or get tested a lot. I know this, the kid in Detroit is for real. I like Brisker a lot. He’s honey badger ish but bigger.

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