Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner has a recipe for success, and confidence is a major ingredient.
During his three seasons at Cincinnati, Gardner never allowed a touchdown in coverage. At the NFL Scouting Combine, someone asked Gardner how he'll react after he's beaten for a touchdown in the NFL.
"I don't have plans on giving one up in the NFL," Gardner said.
When asked if he had a weakness, Gardner had to pause before he answered.
"As a cornerback, you've got to have short memory," Gardner said. "So I say that's my only disorder that I have, short-term memory loss."
Gardner's swag swagger and ability as a shutdown corner could put him on Baltimore's radar with the 14th pick in the NFL draft. Gardner, Derek Stingley Jr. of LSU and Trent McDuffie of Washington are generally considered the top three cornerback prospects and all three have been linked to the Ravens in mock drafts. The Ravens have two former Pro Bowl corners who suffered season-ending injuries last season – (Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey and Anthony Averett is a pending free agent. Even if Averett re-signs and Peters and Humphrey return better than ever, cornerback depth is always a priority in the NFL.
"I think it's such an interesting position," General Manager Eric DeCosta said." When you look at cornerbacks, you want guys that can cover, that don't allow completions, guys that force turnovers and guys that tackle.
"We have two outstanding corners - both guys got hurt this year in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. What makes them both very special, both guys can cover. They both force turnovers and they have the ability in critical situations to make big plays against good opponents. It's a very, very challenging position to play, probably one of the toughest positions in sports to play, in my opinion. You've got to have speed, athletic ability. But you've also got to have a warrior's mentality. You've got to have a toughness about you and you've got to have thick skin."
Gardner checks all of those boxes and his stock continued to rise at the Combine. Stingley decided not to work out in Indianapolis while still recovering from a foot injury, leaving more room for other top corners to shine. Gardner took full advantage and had a better time in the 40-yard dash (4.41) than McDuffie (4.44).
At 6-foot-3, Gardner is much taller than McDuffie (5-foot-11) and looks capable of covering a wider range of receivers. That's important in the AFC North where the Ravens must match up with versatile receivers like Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd of the Bengals and Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool of the Steelers.
Comparisons are being made between Gardner and former Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
During his media session at the Combine, Gardner talked about how dedicated he is to studying film and working on technique. But his jovial personality was evident, and it was clear the pressure of the Combine wasn't too big for him. Away from the game, Gardner says he's unassuming. But putting a microphone or a wide receiver in front of him brings out a different persona.
"When I'm in my little calm mood, I would say that's me being Ahmad," Gardner said. "When (I'm not) I'm Sauce. I got to know when to switch on and when to switch off."
Gardner said he was given his nickname by a youth football coach when he was just six years old. It seems Gardner has always carried himself with a little extra sauce.
"There's not really a meaning to it, but it's a level of competence," Gardner said. "When I'm on and off the field, I make sure I got the sauce, you know, and I just keep going."
Gardner's performance at the Combine could help make him a top-10 pick, taking him off the board before Baltimore can grab him. But there's plenty of uncertainty in this year's draft and Peters (18th overall pick in 2015) and Humphrey (16th pick, 2017) were both taken in the teens. If Gardner tumbles into their range, he would give the Ravens something to think about. As one would expect, he guarantees that the team that drafts him won't regret it.
"I love being on the field with my brothers, flying around on the field," Gardner said. "I don't take anything for granted."