The Detroit Lions sit with the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft with major holes across their roster. With the perception that Jacksonville takes an EDGE No. 1 overall, the Lions will be left with some top players at a multitude of positions, including Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Here is the case for why the Lions should draft Gardner No. 2 overall:
As stated in The 33rd Team’s Scouting Report, “Gardner is a long, physical, and skilled press man coverage corner with tools to play in multiple schemes. With quick hands and feet, fluid hips, and patience at the LOS, he is seldom beat and often on top of receivers with hands on. In Cover 2, he eliminates receivers with his two-handed jam. His long speed, arm length, and ball skills make him effective in Cover 3.” That said, the Lions are in need on their back-end.
When working with Rex Ryan with the Jets, Rex always felt that having big, strong, physical and long corners that can cover on the back-end one-on-one allowed the defense to “change the math.” This meant they could send more blitzers than the offense could pick up.
Looking at the Lions, they have spent some high draft picks and struck some gold on later picks in their secondary. As it sits right now, they have former top 5 pick Jeff Okudah coming off an injury and Amani Oruwariye, the former 5th round pick out of Penn State, set to be starters.
Okudah has truly struggled since being drafted in 2020, and did not play in 2021 beyond Week 1 after an Achilles injury. Two corners, including Oruwariye (who has allowed below a 57% completion% the past two seasons) is a good starting point, but in the current NFL, three starters are needed. Looking at trends from across the NFL to fully understand why Gardner in the mix changes the dynamic.
The NFL Evolution
Two factors became quite clear when looking at the evolution of the passing game since 2010: teams are moving away from heavy 2+ RB / 2+ TE personnel groupings and moving towards having more WRs on the field.
2+ RB / 2+ TE sets
Grouping them in 4 year intervals (2010-2013, 2014-2017 and 2018-2021), we can see the shift in these alignments.
Looking at strictly passes, the usage of over 2 TEs or RBs decreased in each grouping starting at 32,850 snaps from 2010-2013 to 22,978 snaps in 2018-2021. With this drop, 3+ WR sets became more prevalent. Using the same intervals and time frame, we can see the increase in these sets.
3+ WR Sets
From 2010-2013, 52,296 snaps across the NFL involved 3+ WRs, while just 8-11 years later, 63,958 snaps included over 3 WRs.
So what does this mean for the Lions and Gardner? In order to evolve with the change of offensive personnel usage, defensive packages have moved heavily towards the use of nickel, which includes five DBs on the field and typically includes three CBs. As you can see, last season, 27 of the 32 teams played over 50% of their snaps in nickel formation.
Strength to Weakness
Considering what the Lions could have on their backend, if all goes well, why would they not look to turn a weakness into a strength and draft truly the most transcendent CB in this draft. They will be taking a weakness from 2021, where they allowed the 4th most yards per coverage snap (6.93 yards), and the 3rd highest passer rating (104.3), and make it into a true strength.
If I’m on the clock with the No. 2 overall pick, and Gardner is on the board, it is going to be extremely difficult to pass over his potential as a player and what he can bring to the team.