By Charlie Campbell
Summary: Gardner spent the last three years as one of the most consistent cover corners in college football. As a freshman in 2019, he had an impressive debut with 31 tackles, three interceptions and eight passes defended. His production was nearly identical in 2020 despite fewer games, recording 28 tackles, three picks and six pass breakups. Gardner was an elite shutdown corner for the Bearcats in 2021, recording 40 tackles, three interceptions and four passes broken up. The junior played all year, including in the playoff matchup versus Alabama.
Gardner is a complete player with natural cover ability. He is fast, tall, long, athletic and has excellent instincts. Gardner shows the speed and fluidity to be a man-cover corner who can run the route and prevent separation. Displaying impressive recoverability, Gardner has a burst to close, and his length helps him to smother the gap. Gardner has the size to play press man, yet he possesses enough speed and fluidity to play off man. He also has enough twitch to play zone coverage, and his instincts help him to jump routes to break up passes.
On top of his cover ability, Gardner has excellent ball skills. His hands are superb, and he is a real threat to pick off passes. His length makes it tough to get passes around him, and he is very adept at smacking away passes while leaping in the air. Given his height and his ability to jump, Gardner is a weapon for covering big receivers downfield.
While Gardner is not overly physical to draw pass interference penalties, he gets physical when the time calls, including when it comes for tackling. NFL receivers won’t be able to push Gardner around.
For the NFL, Gardner looks like a No. 1 corner who has Pro Bowl potential early in his career. Before long, he could be one of the top cover corners in the league.
Player Comparison: Jalen Ramsey. Some NFL team sources have compared Gardner to Ramsey. They said noted both were a little tight, and that was why Ramsey played some safety at Florida State. Both, hoewver, are big, fast, instinctive, and possess serious ball skills.
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