There’s no doubt about it: The Philadelphia Eagles need another outside cornerback heading into the 2022 NFL season.
Now granted, could that player come in free agency? Sure, while many of the more prominent performers on the open market have found new homes, there are still a few interesting names left, from Stephon Gilmore to Steven Nelson, who visited the Houston Texans on Monday without agreeing to a new contract, and even Xavier Rhodes, who played for Jonathan Gannon both in Minnesota and in Indianapolis. But the logical assumption has always been that the Eagles would attack their defensive backfield in the draft, where top-tier talent can be had for far below their eventual value on the open market.
Of the names in play in the first round, no player has gained more hype over the last month-plus than Sauce Gardner, a defensive albatross in more ways than one.
Measuring in at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds with a freakishly large wingspan, 33.5 in arms, and a 4.41 40 time, Gardner made a name for himself at the University of Cincinnati, where he didn’t allow a single touchdown over his college career, and has shot up draft boards faster than any other prospect in this year’s class due to his unique combination of career-highlights, combine measurables, and unflinching charisma. Whether he’s comped to Richard Sherman, Jimmy Smith, or even our own Darius Slay, the scouts can’t stop gushing about Gardner’s prototypical measurables and just how effortlessly he looks playing cornerback whether facing off against Tulsa, Coastal Carolina, or Alabama.
Will Sauce, real first name Ahmad Gardner fall to the Philadelphia Eagles at 15? No. After his month of March, I would be surprised if he fell to the cornerback-needy Minnesota Vikings at 12, let alone the second New York Jets pick at 10. So why did Howie Roseman take the time to bring him in for a visit? Was it just to visit with his fellow Bearcats, Jason Kelce, and Connor Barwin, or does the wily GM have something else cooking up?
Gardner Sauce is a perfect fit with the Philadelphia Eagles… if they can get him.
On the field, Gardner Sauce can pretty much do it all. He has the speed to keep up with most deep threats the NFL has to offer, the size to shut down 50-50 ball specialists who start the play on the line of scrimmage, and the length to contest any pass that comes his way regardless of whether he’s deployed in man or zone coverage.
As a rookie, Gardner would immediately start on the outside for the Philadelphia Eagles opposite Darius Slay and form a dominant tandem alongside Avonte Maddox, Anthony Harris, and either Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Epps / K’Von Wallace, or a player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. He wouldn’t handcuff Jonathan Gannon’s playcalling in the slightest, would be able to deploy in man or zone coverage depending on the situation, and would finally give the Birds three cornerbacks who can press at the line of scrimmage, which was never a strength of Steven Nelson in 2021.
Sidebar: Goodness, does any grouping position have more boom-or-bust potential than the Eagles’ safety corps? It could be anywhere from elite to downright bad, depending on who ends up at the second safety stop.
If Gardner falls to 15, Howie Roseman would surely run the card to the announcer – if the NFL goes back to doing such a thing – and celebrate the first cornerback drafted by the Eagles since Lito Sheppard all the way back in 2002 with his compatriots. But again, with more than a few cornerback-needy teams in front of the Eagles from Philly, it’s hard to see Gardner making it all the way down to 15. Goodness, depending on how things shake out, there might be two or even three cornerbacks taken before 15, let alone 18, where the Eagles would probably rather select their CB2 of the near future.
So, if that is accepted as a fact until proven otherwise, why would the Eagles spend one of their 30 visits on the Cincinnati cornerbacks? My guess: Due diligence.
Who knows, maybe Roseman already has a handshake deal in place with a team like the Atlanta Falcons to trade up to eight if Gardner slips that far. He already made a draft-resetting trade with the New Orleans Saints to exchange two first-round picks for more ammo down the line and could easily swing another move for a player he really likes if they fall to a certain spot. But in my humble opinion, I don’t believe that to be the case. No, much like in 2021, where the Eagles let the board come to them and traded up a few spots to secure the last premier wide receiver that they really liked, DeVonta Smith, when he started to fall, it’s entirely possible the media’s opinion of Gardner could be notably higher than those of front offices around the NFL, and he could still be on the board longer than some expect.
If that happens, and a team finds themselves with more top-15 ranked players left on the board than picks in between their selection and the Eagles’ first first-round pick, maybe they’d be willing to take some additional draft capital, say a third-round pick, to move back a few spots at Roseman’s expense. For the cost of one of the team’s 30 visits, why not get a better understanding of Gardner the person and see if he is, in fact, the sort of foundational player worthy of building the secondary around long after Slay has retired?
Seems logical to me.
Will Sauce Gardner end up hearing his name called on Day 1 of the draft, preceded by the words “The Philadelphia Eagles select?” No, probably not; there are just too many teams looking for cornerback help at the top of the draft, and he is just too intriguing of a prospect for some team not to fall in love with him as a prospect. But hey, the NFL Draft is a funny thing, maybe something crazy will happen, or an opportunity will arise that works out in Philly’s favor. I mean, strange things have happened, just like the 31 other teams that passed on another Cincinnati Bearcat, Jason Kelce, all the way back in 2011.