One surprise to this point of free agency is that versatile defensive back, C.J. Gardner-Johnson is still on the market. For a New York Jets team with an already great secondary but in need of one final asset, a free safety, Gardner-Johnson is the perfect player for the Jets to sign now.
Gardner-Johnson is going into year five of his NFL career and turned just 25 in late December. He is 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, and has 31″ arms. His speed, with a 1.58 10-yard split, 2.62 20-yard split, and 4.48 40-yard dash, is good.
Throughout his four years in the league, Gardner-Johnson has played in 55 games. He played in 31 over his first two years in the NFL but has had some durability concerns the past two seasons. Gardner-Johnson has played in 12 games in each of the last two years.
When he is on the field, though, Gardner-Johnson is a terrific player with so much versatility. He was tied for the most interceptions in the NFL in 2022 with six, despite missing five games. Gardner-Johnson has tallied at least seven passes defended every year of his four-year career. He is also coming off a year in which he posted 67 total tackles, the most that he has had in a single season.
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Why the New York Jets should sign DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson:
When reviewing the current Jets secondary, there is so much to love. Arguably the best cornerback trio in the NFL, featuring Sauce Gardner, DJ Reed, and Michael Carter II. Two safeties in Chuck Clark and Jordan Whitehead are both known more for their ability to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Whitehead is a hard hitter, and Clark is more versatile, instinctual, and reliable as a tackler.
What is the last piece this Jets secondary needs to be the best in 2023? A true free safety with man coverage skills, range, and the ability to take the football away from opponents. Gardner-Johnson happens to have all of these specific traits.
I wrote an in-depth film breakdown on Gardner-Johnson over a month ago. He offers tons of versatility whether it be as a single-high safety in the post, playing deep in split two-high looks, as a strong safety in the box, in the slot on receivers, or on the end of the line of scrimmage against tight ends.
Gardner-Johnson possesses the quickness and ability to change direction, flipping his hips which allows him to thrive in coverage.
However, not only can he play the pass, but Gardner-Johnson has a physical demeanor working downhill. He can miss a tackle here or there, but Gardner-Johnson, with his toughness and physicality, has the ability to contribute as a great run defender.
Mentally, Gardner-Johnson is also very savvy. He routinely takes sound pursuit angles whether it be working to a ball carrier downhill or roaming the backend to get in position at the catch point. Also, Gardner-Johnson processes things well with his ability to quickly read and react.
All in all, Gardner-Johnson is still very young and happens to be a high-level player who should be in his prime for the next few years. To add Gardner-Johnson to this already special Jets secondary with Gardner, Reed, Carter, Clark, and Whitehead would be exciting.
Gardner-Johnson’s ability to defend a lot of ground, play in man-to-man coverage, and, as much as anything, ball production are the few finishing touches this Jets secondary needs to be the best. Adding a difference-making free safety with one of the best cornerback trios in football and two physical downhill safeties would put this Jets secondary in a favorable position to be the best in 2023.