LAS VEGAS, April 29 (UPI) — Cornerback Sauce Gardner didn’t know exactly which NFL team would draft him, but his intuition and bond with New York Jets coach Robert Saleh provided some hints before he joined the franchise.
Gardner joined the Jets as the No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday in Las Vegas. He told reporters at a news conference inside the Caesars Forum conference center that he watched highlights Wednesday night of former Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis from a game against wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
“Something just told me to watch Darrelle Revis’ film. … I don’t know what it was. It just crossed my mind,” Gardner said. “I got to watching it. Next thing you know, I’m in New York.”
Gardner was projected in many mock drafts to be the first cornerback chosen, but that honor went to former LSU defender Derek Stingley Jr. The Houston Texans selected Stingley at No. 3 overall.
Gardner said he wasn’t hurt by the slight. He also said he didn’t shed tears when he learned he was selected. He simply told his mom, “We made it.”
The highest-drafted player in Cincinnati history said the Jets told him they liked the “type of person and player” he was in the pre-draft process. Gardner, who grew up in Detroit, said he “clicked instantly” with Saleh during an off-season visit.
Saleh is a native of Dearborn, Mich., about 15 minutes west of Detroit. The Jets coach told Gardner he was “always the one” the team wanted when he called him on draft night.
“From one Detroit kid to another, we’re going to have a hell of a time out there turning this thing around,” Saleh said.
Gardner said Wednesday at a football clinic in Las Vegas that he maintains a relationship with and models his game after Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is regarded by many as the best NFL player at his position.
The Jets also selected former Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson with the No. 10 overall pick. They also used a trade with the Tennessee Titans to snag former Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II at No. 26 overall.
Saleh said Thursday at a news conference that Gardner, Wilson and Johnson ranked inside the team’s Top 8 targets from the draft class.
“We feel fortunate that we were able to get three players that can really help this team,” Saleh told reporters.
The Jets defense allowed the most points and yards in the NFL last season. They also owned the third-worst pass defense and allowed the most rushing touchdowns.
Gardner, who never allowed a touchdown in his collegiate career, is expected to slide right into the Jets’ starting lineup in 2022. Recent draft picks Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, Brandon Echols and veteran D.J. Reed are among the team’s other cornerbacks.
Johnson is expected to start opposite fellow pass rusher Carl Lawson on the Jets defensive line. Wilson will likely lineup at wide receiver alongside Corey Davis and Elijah Moore.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers own the first pick in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Second- and third-round coverage starts at 7 p.m. EDT Friday and airs on ESPN, NFL Network and ABC.
The Jets have the No. 6 pick in the second round and the No. 37 pick in the third round.