Robert Saleh was driving the group bus after a recreation in Green Bay when he bought a textual content message from Richard Sherman. His buddy was hyped a few play he seen from the Jets’ recreation that day towards the Packers.

“I text him all the time,” Sherman stated.

Lately, it’s about Sauce Gardner. Sherman, as soon as the NFL’s finest cornerback, marvels at what Gardner can do already as a rookie, stifling a few of the league’s finest large receivers like Ja’Marr Chase and Stefon Diggs. After that Packers recreation in October — the one the place Gardner famously snagged a cheesehead from the gang, wore it off the sector and onto the group aircraft — Sherman texted Saleh a clip from the 27-10 Jets win. In it, Green Bay receiver Romeo Doubs tried a double transfer towards Gardner and reduce towards the ball being thrown by Aaron Rodgers. Gardner caught with him the entire manner and compelled an incompletion. Saleh watched the clip and stated he thought: Damn, that’s spectacular.

Ten weeks later, that feeling hasn’t modified. The distinction: The shock and awe has worn off. That form of play turned the expectation. Yes, Gardner is only a rookie, however he’s been that good.


Rookie of the Year odds: Jets’ Wilson, Gardner well ahead

Lately, Gardner has been somewhat annoyed. Quarterbacks in current weeks prevented him to such a level that he’s had few alternatives to make performs on the ball. The Lions didn’t goal him in any respect in Week 15.

“​​I take that kind of personally,” Gardner stated the following day, “because I actually wanted to make a bigger and a better impact.”

That made Saleh consider Sherman, whom Saleh coached after they have been each with the 49ers.

“I don’t think Sherm ever hit 17 miles an hour on his GPS, because he was just standing, watching football the whole game,” Saleh stated. “So he’s (Sauce) got to get used to it.”

Gardner already lives on an island, the primary one opponents are afraid to journey to since Darrelle Revis wore Jets inexperienced. He’s supplied Saleh and the Jets protection all the pieces he might have hoped for, and extra. Gardner, the fourth choose within the draft, is on a crash course to perform all the pieces he got down to as a rookie: make the Pro Bowl, All-Pro group and win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Only one participant has accomplished that triumvirate within the final 11 seasons: Cowboys edge rusher Micah Parsons in 2021. In the final 40 years, it’s solely occurred 4 occasions: to Parsons, Ndamukong Suh (2010), Patrick Willis (2009) and Jevon Kearse (1999). No rookie cornerback has ever accomplished the feat.

Gardner will meet the one participant presumably standing in his manner on Sunday — in an important recreation for the 7-8 Jets, with playoff implications, no much less. For all of the hype Gardner is getting, there are some — particularly in Seattle — who assume Seahawks nook Tariq Woolen deserves the identical degree of respect. Sherman thinks Woolen deserves the Defensive Rookie of the Year award — which wouldn’t go over properly within the New York/New Jersey space.

Ask Garrett Wilson — the Jets’ front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year — who deserves it: Sauce, clearly.

“Hell yeah, he does,” Wilson stated. “That’s easy.”



Jets at Seahawks: Odds, expert picks, discussion for Sunday’s NFL game

Whether Gardner wins the award or not, he’s made issues look simple, shutting down his facet of the sector all season, going toe-to-toe with the league’s finest large receivers — and normally popping out on prime. He’s rapidly changing into some of the recognizable faces within the NFL, and he has the persona — and confidence — that makes it simple to see why.

His teammates love him. Fans love him. Experts love him. Current and former gamers love him.

Everybody loves Sauce.

“It’s a whole lot of fun to watch him,” Wilson stated. “He plays with the same energy he’s got off the field. He’s really confident. He’s fun to be around. He’s got contagious energy, and when you’re watching him play, it’s the same thing.

“Plus, he locking everything up. I’m happy that boy is on my team.”

Tony Oden solely spent one 12 months teaching Revis, in 2013 with the Buccaneers, however one thing caught with him. Oden, the Jets cornerbacks coach, can be pulling up clips of their upcoming opponent to level out the large receivers and the routes they normally run on Sundays.

Revis would cease him.

“I’ll say, ‘Look for these routes here,’ and he’d say: ‘Coach, I’m not going to get that route. Watch my film. They don’t attack me that way,’” Oden stated final month. “He was right.”

Oden has made it a degree to carry that as much as Gardner, who’s already having an analogous impression on opposing offenses. It doesn’t damage that Gardner has D.J. Reed — a Pro Bowl alternate — on the other facet, nevertheless it’s no coincidence that opposing quarterbacks would reasonably throw on the veteran than the rookie. Reed has been focused by opposing quarterbacks this season 17 extra occasions than Gardner. For the season, Gardner is seventh amongst corners (minimal 200 protection snaps), averaging 9 snaps per goal. Since Week 8, Gardner leads all cornerbacks in that class, permitting 13.8 snaps per goal. In second place: Woolen, at 12 snaps per goal.

And when he’s focused, it’s not as if Gardner is permitting many catches, anyway. He’s allowed two or fewer catches in 12 of 15 video games. In eight video games, Gardner didn’t permit a catch that gained greater than 10 yards. He’s allowed just one landing, and that got here in Week 2 towards the Browns, attributable to a miscommunication with a security — and never truly his fault, which Saleh stated that week. Gardner leads the NFL in move deflections (16) and is second to James Bradberry in pressured incompletions (16). Quarterbacks are finishing solely 44.3 % of their passes towards him, which ranks second behind Chidobe Awuzie.

Among 82 cornerbacks in protection for at the very least 300 snaps this season, per Pro Football Focus, Gardner ranks first in completion share allowed and snaps per reception allowed — and Bradberry ranks higher in passer score allowed.

Here’s how Gardner has stacked up when receivers/tight ends he matched up with have been focused:

Stats vs. Sauce

Stats vs. Sauce (per PFF)

2 targets, 0 receptions

4 targets, 4 catches, 33 yards, 1 TD

1 goal, 0 catches, 1 PBU

3 targets, 2 catches, 51 yards, 1 PBU

2 targets, 1 catch, 5 yards

2 targets, 1 catch, 4 yards, 1 INT

1 goal, 1 catch, 11 yards

3 targets, 0 catches, 2 PBU

3 targets, 0 catches, 3 PBU

3 targets, 2 catches, 4 yards

4 targets, 3 catch, 17 yards (2 video games)

1 goal, 1 catch, 42 yards (2 video games)

2 targets, 1 catch, 10 yards

1 goal, 0 catches

Revis, for one, has been impressed. Gardner, Reed and different Jets cornerbacks watched movie with Revis on the Jets facility final month.

“I love his game. I’m a lover of the game itself. It’s a different style of play but at the same time, he’s effective in what he can do,” Revis stated. “I think he can take on that legacy as being a Jet great.”

Sherman views Gardner because the quintessential fashionable cornerback.

“He’s great at being close to the receiver,” Sherman stated. “He’s a great sticky corner. You know, he’s always gonna be close, he’s gonna be competitive on just about every rep. He has great feet, he’s a great pedal. He’s just a natural. If you put him in a drill, he’d make teach tape all day.”

Seahawks nook Coby Bryant, who performed with Gardner at Cincinnati, lauded Gardner’s confidence and competitiveness.

“He’s extremely competitive,” Bryant informed The Athletic. ”He’s simply who he’s: He all the time is available in and has the proper mindset every day. He’s assured as properly, too. To be a younger participant and be assured makes him who he’s.”

Wilson had by no means actually had a cornerback persist with him like Gardner did in apply, to cowl him as if it have been a recreation state of affairs. Usually, Wilson’s pure athleticism makes issues seem like they arrive simple to him, particularly in apply. But nothing is towards Gardner — and Wilson felt that as quickly as OTAs.

That’s when he knew Gardner was particular, he stated.

“I had never really been guarded in practice like that before,” Wilson stated. “We’re doing reps and I’m like: Damn, he’s guarding this s—, for real. From the first time he was out there playing, I knew. It wasn’t easy to go against that boy, and that was the thing for me. I had never seen no one like that.”

Sometimes, Gardner can’t assist himself.

He’s a product of the social media age, in spite of everything, and he lives on-line. He’s constructed a loyal (and enormous) following on Twitch, the place adoring followers — of each sports activities and video video games — go to observe him play video games like “Call of Duty.” He’s energetic on Twitter, too, and hasn’t been afraid to push again on issues folks tweet about him.

In coaching camp, when a reporter dinged him for giving up a catch throughout group drills, Gardner tweeted — after which deleted — a remark about it, stating that it wasn’t him. When Pro Football Focus charged Gardner with giving up a landing towards the Patriots, Gardner known as PFF out for getting that improper — and PFF eliminated the landing from his stats shortly after. He reacted equally when PFF initially dinged him for permitting a catch towards the Lions, which has since been rectified.

When Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was benched final month, Gardner appeared to love a tweet from Cowboys nook Jourdan Lewis disparaging Wilson. Gardner, although, insists he preferred it by chance, and even known as Lewis to let him know, he informed The Athletic. Lewis laughed at him.

But what Gardner tweeted on Dec. 19 was not a mistake — and stays up, a pair weeks later, when he handed Woolen because the main Pro Bowl vote-getter at cornerback. That’s when he tweeted: “Jets Nation… Just want to say that YALL are the reason I passed whoever was leading in Pro Bowl votes at the CB position. I just wanna say I appreciate y’all for being the best fanbase I could ask for; and for supporting me and my teammates.”

Whoever was main in Pro Bowl votes.

Woolen “liked” the tweet, an acknowledgment of Gardner’s trash discuss. Gardner hasn’t been eager on speaking about Woolen, this week or since that tweet. When Woolen comes up, Gardner tends to say he doesn’t know a lot about him, or the season he’s having. It wouldn’t be outlandish to imagine Gardner doesn’t like that some folks assume Woolen deserves the rookie of the 12 months award over him. Like Sherman.

“They’re definitely different players,” Sherman stated. “Sauce isn’t as good as Tariq is of recognizing the ball and going up and getting it. … He’s getting his hands on the football, he’s playing the ball really well and that’s what you value in this league. And, I mean, he may find himself on an All-Pro team, and it would be weird for him to not win Defensive Rookie of the Year and be on an All-Pro team, leading the league in interceptions. You’ve got to get something for it.”

GettyImages 1437999753 scaled

Tariq Woolen, a fifth-round select of UTSA, is Sauce Gardner’s competitors for Defensive Rookie of the Year. (Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

The argument for Woolen begins with these ball-hawking stats Sherman talked about: He has six interceptions, which leads the NFL, and scored one landing. He additionally has 14 move deflections, two fumble recoveries and ranks third amongst cornerbacks in snaps per reception (Gardner is first), second in snaps per goal (Gardner is seventh) and seventeenth in QB score allowed (Gardner is second). Woolen has additionally allowed 5 touchdowns, per PFF.

“They’re both playing really well,” Saleh stated Wednesday. “Tariq has been playing really well. He’s a big, fast, long young man, very similar in the mold as Sauce. He’s doing a fantastic job. They’re doing a great job of putting him out there and letting him go play. It’s rare to come out and have the amount of success that they’re having. These are two corners that are going to be successful for a very long time.”

Bryant, who has performed with each of them, stated: “To see those two guys at the top this year is special.”

Sunday will go a great distance towards figuring out who deserves the award. Woolen will probably be chargeable for slowing down Wilson, no simple activity. Gardner will attempt to include DK Metcalf and/or Tyler Lockett. The Jets aren’t too anxious about that matchup, although.

It’s not like anybody else has gotten the most effective of him.

“The level in which he’s played, and the consistency that he’s played with as a rookie has been — I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it before,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich stated. “And to think that he hasn’t even scratched the surface of where he can go is really cool for his future.”

The Athletic‘s Michael-Shawn Dugar contributed to this story.

(Top picture of Sauce Gardner: Gregory Fisher / USA Today)

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