Washington concluded the 2021 season with some paltry numbers coming from the secondary. The Commanders conceded the NFL’s most receiving touchdowns and finished in the bottom-10 in receptions allowed, receiving yards allowed, receiving first downs allowed and passes defensed.
Heading into the NFL Draft this Thursday, the secondary could use some help. Aside from safety Kyle Hamilton, who a few draft experts have linked to Washington’s pick at No. 11, two potential game-changing cornerbacks have set the market at the position ablaze: Cincinnati’s Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner and LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr.
Should Washington elect to forego other position needs, notably at wide receiver, Gardner and Stingley Jr. could both be slam-dunk picks at 11. NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah spoke on the two prospects on 106.7 The Fan's BMitch and Finlay Monday afternoon, and started with the Bearcat.
“There’s flat out, there isn’t really bad tape on Sauce Gardner,” Jeremiah said. “You’ve got tremendous size and length, like rare, rare length that he has. So he’s bigger [than Stingley Jr.]. The speed, I would say, you get a little bit more explosive with Stingley, but it’s negligible, it’s really close. But I can’t find tapes where I find Sauce Gardner out of position, I can’t find tapes where I question some of the competitive stuff.”
The one thing everyone seems to agree upon with the 2022 NFL Draft is that everything is a total toss-up. Nobody really knows how the top-10 is going to shake out, but it would be a rather wise assumption that Gardner could easily be taken with a single-digit pick. NBC Sports Washington recently listed Gardner as one of three non-QB prospects the Commanders should take a serious look at.
Per Pro Football Focus, Gardner has only allowed a career passer rating of 32.6. He hasn’t allowed a single touchdown in his entire college career. He’s a unicorn and whichever team snags him, be it Washington or a competitor, would be lucky to get their hands on his versatility.
Stingley Jr., though not necessarily rated as highly as Gardner, is also well regarded and played in a much tougher conference in the SEC. However, there are still drawbacks to his game, particularly with his injury history.
“With Stingley, I moved him up a little bit in this last [mock draft] because I, through all the medical stuff, found out that he’d been dealing with that foot before the season started this last year,” Jeremiah said. “It doesn’t excuse the fact that I can’t unsee Davonta Smith putting 200 [yards] on him the year before. I’ve never seen Sauce Gardner get that treatment.”
Jeremiah concurs with what seems to be the national consensus on the two players: they are both far and away the best cornerback prospects in the class, but Gardner should be drafted higher than Stingley Jr.
One knock on Gardner, though it’s not his fault, is the fact that his competition was not nearly as formidable as Stingley Jr.’s was in college. Playing in the American Athletic Conference is nowhere near as tough a test for a cornerback as it is playing consistently against SEC competition. Jeremiah says that should not sway teams on taking Gardner ahead of Stingley Jr., though.
“People doubting Sauce Gardner said he didn’t play as many guys. True, I can’t dispute that. But I saw Sauce Gardner as a true freshman go up against Gabriel Davis and completely shut him down, and last time I saw Gabriel Davis, he darn-near had 300 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in the conference championship game. So, it’s not like he played against all bums.”
Washington is razor thin at cornerback heading into 2022. As JP Finlay noted, Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III are solid veterans but could be ‘cap casualties’ after this season.
Benjamin St-Juste showed promise as a rookie CB in Washington last year but dealt with multiple concussions. Danny Johnson, Corn Elder and Troy Apke are the only other players in that column on the depth chart. The Commanders need to look at who could bolster their secondary beyond just 2022, and Gardner and Stingley Jr. could be the players to do that.