After helping lead Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff, cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner is turning pro.
Gardner told Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports in a phone interview that he is declaring for the 2022 NFL draft.
“I talked things over with my family,” Gardner said Tuesday. “My work at Cincinnati is done. I came in and did everything I was supposed to do. I listened to everything the coaches were telling me to do to get in a better position to take care of my family.”
Thamel noted Gardner is projected as a first-rounder, with some scouts believing he could go off the board within the top 15 picks.
Per B/R's NFL Scouting Department, Gardner is the No. 5 cornerback and the No. 26 player overall in the 2022 draft class.
ESPN's Todd McShay wrote that Gardner is "tall and long, and he smothers coverage underneath," as well as having "strong recognition ability in zone" and "is an adequate wrap-up tackler and flashes playmaking skill."
Gardner was a key player for the Bearcats during their run to the College Football Playoff this season. He started 13 games, setting career highs with five tackles for loss, three sacks and tying his career high with three interceptions.
A native of Detroit, Gardner was a 3-star recruit coming out of Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School in 2019. He was named to the All-AAC first team in each of his three seasons at Cincinnati.
As a junior in 2021, Gardner was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. He recorded five total tackles and one tackle for loss in a 27-6 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Dec. 31.
Gardner can become the third player in Bearcats history selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Quarterback Greg Cook (No. 5 overall in 1969) and defensive tackle Bob Bell (No. 21 overall in 1971) are the only Cincinnati alums drafted in the first round.