The Jacksonville Jaguars took outside linebacker Travon Walker with the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, New York Jets cornerback D.J. Reed would have instead selected teammate Sauce Garder if he had held the top selection.
Reed recently had a sitdown with Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus and talked about Gardner’s impact as a rookie and how much he’s impressed him.
"“Like, I could keep going on. I’ve never seen a rookie perform like this so fast and so sudden. The first game, he played great. Usually, it takes rookies a couple games. It wasn’t like that. It’s pretty crazy. If they did the draft over again, he’s probably the No. 1 overall pick. He’s legit.”"
Sauce Gardner has quickly become one of the best cornerbacks NFL and he’s done so in his first season, which is a reason he’s a favorite to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2022. He’s played 98 percent of New York’s defensive snaps this season and has logged 14 passes defensed and two interceptions. He’s allowed just 52.7 percent of the targets thrown his way and his 85.9 PFF grade is the best in the league heading into Week 12.
Reed is having a fine season himself. A fifth-round in the 2018 season, he signed with the Jets in free agency and has registered one pick and seven pass deflections. His PFF grade of 76.8 ranks 13th in the NFL. The Jets have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league and are surely glad Gardner fell to them at No. 4 but would he have been the first overall pick with the benefit of hindsight?
It’s hard to imagine the Jaguars drafting Sauce Gardner
This isn’t the first time someone suggested Sauce Gardner was worthy of being drafted first overall. PFF had a draft do-over not long ago and they had the Jags taking the former Cincinnati Bearcat with the No. 1 pick. However, it’s hard to imagine Jacksonville or any other team dipping the top selection in the “Sauce”.
Teams would surely love to have a corner that can lock down opposing receivers but it’s highly unlikely that anyone would invest such a premium pick in that position. More often than not, a quarterback, an offensive tackle, or a defensive end/outside linebacker will get the call with the first overall selection, so even if Jacksonville hadn’t held the top pick, whoever had it would’ve gone with someone else.
The Detroit Lions couldn’t wait to draft Aidan Hutchinson at No. 2 and they would have reportedly drafted Walker if the Jags had taken Hutchinson. Maybe the Houston Texans would have taken Garder based on how things have played out. After all, Derek Stingley Jr. has had a solid rookie campaign but it’s not currently on par with Gardner’s.
Having said that, it’s hard to see a scenario in which Gardner goes first overall. If he did, he would have made history as the first cornerback selected with the top selection.
Although taking Gardner first overall seems tempting in retrospect, the Jaguars surely feel comfortable with Walker’s development. Sure, the former Georgia Bulldog hasn’t had the impact his fellow rookie has had this season but they knew he was a long-term investment and they know the decision can pay off down the road.
Then again, if Gardner does become the best defender of the 2022 class, everyone will need to circle back to Reed’s comments.