Jets superstar DB wants surprising new role in 2024

New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) warms up before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets could make a game-changing alteration to their defensive scheme in 2024. ESPN’s Rich Cimini reports that superstar Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner wants to shadow the other teams’ best wide receiver on a weekly basis next season. Cimini shared this quote from Jets head coach Robert Saleh, who responded to questions about the potential coaching move:

“He’s a weapon we can use from the defensive standpoint, but to say it’ll be exclusive, I’m not going to say that,” Saleh said. “He did last year. To say he might do a little bit more, that’s a possibility. But I think it’s going to be more game to game.”

Jets: Sauce Gardner established himself as the NFL’s top CB against elite competition in 2023

new york giants, jeff smith
Dec 22, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) looks up in front of New York Jets wide receiver Jeff Smith (16) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Gardner won his second consecutive First Team All-Pro honor in 2023 after he notched 11 defended passes and one forced fumble along with 57 total tackles on the season.

The Cincinnati product was matched up with a slew of elite receivers last year. He took on Stefon Diggs in the Jets’ Week 1 matchup against the Buffalo Bills. He also saw time against A.J Brown (Philadelphia Eagles), DeAndre Hopkins (Las Vegas Raiders), Keenan Allen (Los Angeles Chargers), Tyreek Hill (Miami Dolphins), and Nico Collins (Houston Texans) throughout the year.

A look at Gardner’s show-worthy advanced numbers

new york jets, sauce gardner
Nov 6, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) celebrates his interception with teammates during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

His output against the game’s best was exemplary. He allowed a mere 22.4 receiving yards per game, and a total of two receiving touchdowns on 2.1 weekly receptions in 2023. His 10.1 percent target rate ranked No. 2 at his position.

Yet, Gardner only posted a shadow rate — the measure of how much a cornerback covers the other team’s No. 1 receiver — of 34.9 percent, which ranked No. 99 in the NFL. Hence why he’s championing to take on the main guy on opposing offenses more. His 1.3 target separation score, per, coupled with the attestation of his league-leading separation prevention, per Pro Football Focus, not only proved him as the best corner in the league last season, but also as a defensive back who can shoulder the burden of stifling elite 1,000-yard receivers and deep-ball threats all game.

Will the Jets deploy Gardner as a shadow corner more in man coverage in 2024?

The Jets have a strong secondary throughout and played man coverage at a top-10 rate through Week 14. If they continue to employ that defensive strategy frequently next season, Gardner could be in line to up his shadow rate, though he may not own the shadow corner reputation that a Patrick Peterson once held in the league a decade ago, just yet.

Gardner is all for doing whatever it takes to help the team win, as he told the media at OTA’s last week. So whether he’s on one man or containing multiple pass-catchers on a game-by-game basis, his All-Pro activity on defense doesn’t figure to diminish either way.

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