Jets' Sauce Gardner will face a tough schedule in 2024, but he is more than up to the challenge

2KDH8R0 East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA. 6th Nov, 2022. Buffalo Bills wide receiver STEFON DIGGS (14) in action against New York Jets cornerback SAUCE GARDNER (1) at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey New York defeats Buffalo 20 to 17 (Credit Image: © Brooks Von Arx/ZUMA Press Wire)

• The best in the game: Sauce Gardner is the only cornerback in the league who has earned a PFF coverage grade above 90.0 over the past two years, having given up a league-best 0.53 yards per coverage snap.

• A tough schedule in 2024: It all starts in Week 1 against Brandon Aiyuk, followed by DeAndre Hopkins in Week 2. Gardner will then face Courtland Sutton, Justin Jefferson, George Pickens, Stefon Diggs, Nico Collins, Tank Dell, Marvin Harrison Jr., Michael Pittman Jr.D.K. Metcalf, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle (twice) and Los Angeles' Puka Nacua.

• A passing of the torch: Darrelle Revis also faced a gauntlet of wide receivers in his third year in the league. That gauntlet produced what is arguably the best season ever from an NFL defensive back.

• Get a head start on fantasy football: Use PFF's fantasy football mock draft simulator to create real live mock draft simulations to get ready for your live draft!

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Amid the buzz of the NFL schedule release, players and fans dive into the details, dissecting the first game, the timing of their bye week, their island games and those unique disruptions like international games. They’ll then look at potential weather challenges, picturing frosty December bouts up North or sweltering September afternoons in the South.

But once the initial flurry settles, attention turns to the real heart of the matter: the opponents and the caliber of players they’ll face.

For New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner, the 2024 season is set to be a crucible of competition.

Gardner, who has already cemented his reputation as a lockdown corner, will face a slate of top-tier wide receivers this coming season. He'll have to fight almost every week to maintain his reign as the NFL's premier cornerback.

It's a fight he is more than up to.

The best cornerback in the game

There is very little doubt about who Gardner is as he heads into his third NFL season. He is the guy who took the top spot on PFF's cornerback rankings after just his rookie season. He's the guy who reclaimed the top spot after his sophomore year. He's the only cornerback in the league who has earned a PFF coverage grade above 90.0 over the past two years, having given up a league-best 0.53 yards per coverage snap.

Since entering the league as the fourth overall pick, Gardner has been targeted 124 times across 33 games and 1,162 coverage snaps. Over his two seasons, he's given up just 62 catches for 612 yards, 25 first downs and only two touchdowns.

To put his dominance into perspective, consider this: last year alone, 32 cornerbacks gave up more than 612 yards, and 73 cornerbacks surrendered more than two touchdowns.

Sauce Gardner: Advanced stats and rank among 142 qualifying cornerbacks since 2022 (playoffs included)
Metric Rank
PFF coverage grade 92.1 1st
Catch % allowed 50.0% 2nd
Passer rating allowed 63.0 1st
Yards allowed per coverage snap 0.53 1st
Coverage snaps per target 9.37 2nd
Coverage snaps per reception 18.74 2nd
Forced incompletion % 25.0% 2nd
% of targets that have resulted
in a first down/touchdown
21.8% 1st
% of targets that have resulted
in a 15-plus yard gain
1.03% 2nd

Pick your advanced coverage metric, and you'll find the Jets star ranked comfortably at the very top.

And it's not as if those numbers have been aided by a high rate of unforced errors by opposing quarterbacks, either.

Since 2022, only 17.7% of his targets have resulted in a dropped pass or off-target incompletion, which is actually lower than the NFL average over that time (18.5%).

When we apply that context to some of his metrics above, Gardner's statistical profile gets even more impressive. He ranks second in catch rate allowed and coverage snaps played per reception, but the leader in those metrics — SteelersJoey Porter Jr. — had a league-high 33.3% of his targets result in either a dropped pass or off-target incompletion.

Sauce Gardner's percentile ranks in the stable metrics of cornerback play.

The wide receiver gauntlet of 2024

The 2024 season promises to be a thrilling challenge for the star cornerback as he faces off against some of the NFL's best receivers.

It all starts in Week 1 against Brandon Aiyuk, followed by DeAndre Hopkins in Week 2. Gardner will then face Courtland Sutton, Justin Jefferson, George Pickens, Stefon Diggs, Nico Collins, Tank Dell, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Michael Pittman Jr. before his bye week.

After that Week 12 bye, Gardner will then be tested by Seattle's D.K. Metcalf, Miami‘s Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle (twice) and Los Angeles' Puka Nacua.

It is a schedule that would keep many of the league's cornerbacks up at night. But Gardner, having already performed well against most of these stars, probably won't lose a wink.

Sauce Gardner vs. 2024 opponents (since 2022)
Name Rec. grade since 2022 Rec. grade vs. Gardner Games vs. Gardner Routes run Rec/Tgts Yards TDs Rtg.
Tyreek Hill 94.5 41.7 3 5 0/2 0 0 39.6
Justin Jefferson 91.9 70.5 1 4 1/2 10 0 64.6
Jaylen Waddle 90.6 85.0 4 12 4/4 62 0 118.8
Nico Collins 90.1 77.3 1 2 1/1 13 0 118.8
Stefon Diggs 88.9 68.5 4 13 4/6 75 0 109.7
D.K. Metcalf 84.2 45.4 1 8 1/4 3 0 39.6
Courtland Sutton 74.6 63.0 2 13 1/5 13 0 39.6
George Pickens 74.3 69.6 1 5 0/1 0 0 39.6

While he has yet to face Aiyuk, Hopkins or Pittman in his NFL career, Gardner already has priors — of varying sample sizes — with the rest of his slate.

Across five reps against Tyreek Hill, arguably the most dangerous receiver in the league, the Jets cornerback allowed zero catches from two targets and forced one incompletion.

On four reps against Justin Jefferson, arguably the league's most well-rounded receiver, the Jets cornerback allowed one catch for only 10 yards on two targets.

Over eight reps against D.K. Metcalf, arguably the league's most physically intimidating wide receiver, the Jets cornerback allowed one catch for only 3 yards on four targets, forcing one incompletion.

If we combine the efforts of Hill, Jefferson, Metcalf, Pickens and Sutton, Gardner's coverage stat line is staggering. Across a combined 59 coverage snaps, he faced 14 targets yet gave up just three receptions for 26 yards and two first downs. He allowed only 0.44 yards per coverage snap, and those passes netted a passer rating of 39.6 — the same result as a spike to stop the clock.

The biggest battle awaiting Gardner looms in his upcoming matchup against Stefon Diggs, where he'll be eager to settle the score. After all, Diggs is the only wide receiver in the NFL who has managed to put up more than 70 yards on the All-Pro defensive back.

The two have played one another four times to date, Diggs coming away with two personal victories and Gardner coming away with two of his own. The two Diggs victories include Week 9 of the 2022 season, in which he caught his lone target for 42 yards; and Week 1 of the 2023 season, in which he caught all three of his targets for 33 yards.

The two Gardner victories include Week 14 of the 2022 season, when he wasn't targeted across four coverage snaps; and Week 11 of the 2023 season, when he didn't allow a single catch across two targets and eight coverage snaps.

The other circles on his calendar will be Weeks 14 and 18 when he takes on Miami's Jaylen Waddle, who has seen one target in each of his four previous matchups with Gardner. The Jets corner has yet to force an incompletion against Waddle, who has come away with double-digit receiving yards in three of those contests.

A little bit of history repeating?

Football fans all over the globe will likely remember another former first-round cornerback who left an indelible mark on the Jets' secondary.

If nobody immediately springs to mind, here are a few hints: He is a Pittsburgh alum and was the 14th overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft. He is an NFL Hall of Famer. He had an island named after him.

Darrelle Revis quickly soared to NFL stardom, earning elite grades over his first two years in the league just as Gardner did 15 years later — only Gardner put up better numbers.

Sauce Gardner vs. Darrelle Revis: Coverage metrics over their first two years in the NFL
Sauce Gardner
Darrelle Revis
1.70 PFF WAR 0.61
92.1 Coverage grade 86.2
92.4 Coverage grade with no pressure 80.5
91.5 Coverage Grade on Passes <= 3 seconds 78.8
91.2 Coverage Grade at Outside CB 87.5
81.9 Coverage Grade in the Slot 65.5
25.0% Forced Incompletion Percentage 10.6%
0.53 Yards allowed per coverage snap 1.11
63.0 Passer rating allowed 74.2

But then what happened to Revis after he'd solidified his standing among the best in the game? He got hit by a gauntlet of receivers in Year 3, including but not limited to Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne, Chad Ochocinco, Steve Smith, Roddy White and Andre Johnson.

That gauntlet produced what is arguably the best season ever from an NFL defensive back. He took the premier wide receivers in the NFL and shut them out:

Darrelle Revis vs. top wide receivers (2009)
Name Week Snaps Tgt Rec. Yds TDs INTs FINCs Rtg.
Andre Johnson 1 3 2 1 7 0 0 0 58.3
Chad Johnson 17 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 39.6
Chad Johnson WC 6 5 1 9 0 1 0 0.0
Marques Colston 4 4 3 0 0 0 0 1 39.6
Randy Moss 2 7 6 3 21 0 1 0 89.6
Randy Moss 11 12 9 4 29 1 0 2 18.8
Reggie Wayne 16 6 6 2 22 0 0 0 45.1
Reggie Wayne CC 5 4 2 38 0 0 0 83.3
Roddy White 15 6 5 2 12 0 0 3 47.9
Steve Smith 12 7 6 1 5 0 2 1 0.0
Terrell Owens 6 6 6 3 13 0 0 1 56.3
Terrell Owens 13 10 8 2 16 0 1 3 0.0
Vincent Jackson DP 5 2 0 0 0 1 0 0.0

Against those guys, Revis played a total of 76 coverage snaps. He gave up 14 catches from 51 targets, which resulted in zero touchdowns, five interceptions, six first downs and nine forced incompletions — for a 0.0 passer rating allowed and a 90.5 coverage grade.

The season as a whole saw Revis allow a catch on only 37.8% of throws into his coverage for a passer rating of just 29.1.

The bottom line

It's true that his competition this season likely isn't up to the level Revis' was back in 2009, but if he can emerge unscathed from his 2024 battles and shut down his competition the same way Revis did, there might just need to be a little conversation about potential joint ownership of that little island that sits in Rutherford, New Jersey.


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