Prior to the 2022 NFL draft, few beat the “Houston should draft Sauce Gardner” drum harder than me. His NCAA film showed a young player with potentially elite skills. Odds were that Sauce was going to, at minimum, transform into a quality starter in the NFL.
On the flipside, Derek Stingley Jr., the other top tier corner in the draft pool, had several knocks due to injury. Sting also had the “more talent than effort” cloud hanging over him we’ve seen before with players like Jadeveon Clowney.
The accolades continue for Sauce Gardner: After just one season in the NFL, he enters the 2023 campaign as the NFL’s top cornerback.
Gardner hit the ground running in the NFL and was the best cornerback in the game during his rookie season. He allowed a 53.9 passer rating, and just 45.9% of passes thrown into his coverage were caught by their intended receiver. We know coverage in general, and cornerback play in particular, is highly volatile, so Gardner could regress in 2023. But there is no obvious lockdown cornerback who belongs atop this list in his place.
Reading that then begs the question: If Sauce is #1, where is Sting? After all, the 2 corners were considered first and second best coming out of college last year.
Scroll from 2-10... no Sting
Scroll from 11-20... still no Sting
Scroll from 21-30... nope...
Scroll to 32... nada
From a strictly stats/on field easily measured results stand point, it’s true that Derek Stingley Jr. was nowhere near the best cornerback in the NFL last season. How could he be the best on a defense that was the worst?
And so, it’s not a big surprise that he didn’t rate in the top 32, especially when most teams carry 3 starting corners (left, right, slot) in the modern, pass heavy NFL.
Strictly going by PFF’s ratings, Sting was essentially the anti-Sauce.
Overall grade: 49.1
Run defense: 43.4
Pass rush: 63.6
Sting racked up 34 solo tackles, 2 assists, 0 forced fumbles, 10 stops, 1 sack, 3 missed tackles, 1 interception and surrendered an 84.9 passer rating and 12.5 yards per catch average.
Definitely not what anyone wants to see from their team’s top pick in the draft.
But, this is where it gets twisted.
Cornerbacks rely heavily on the system they’re in, the performance of the front 7, and the ability of the other defensive backs on their team.
If you take a man cover corner and force him to play zone coverage, or vice versa, the system has failed the player. Not the other way around.
If the front 7 gives the opposing quarterback all day to throw, even Deion Sanders gets torched from time to time.
If the other defensive backs aren’t good enough to pull WR1 duty, the corner gets the harder wide out to stop all game long.
Essentially each of those things worked against Sting in his rookie season. A perfect storm of Lovie Smith garbage to set a rookie up for failure.
This begs the pile o’ questions:
- How will Sting look in the Demeco defense?
- Will new defensive coordinator Matt Burke, a former d-line coach, crank up the performance of the front 7?
- Will his scheme suit Sting’s abilities?
- Will Desmond King II and Shaquille Griffin provide enough back end help to allow Sting to thrive?
- Is Derek Stingley the first official bust of the Nick Caserio Texans draft era?
My bet: #InDemecoWeTrust
Derek Stingley Jr will be on this list this time next year. https://t.co/hu0hvSBVk2— Nick Schwager (@NickSchwagerNFL) June 1, 2023
1While that’s pretty cool to read, it begged the question: how far down did Derek Stingley Jr. place? Coming out of college, he and Sauce were depending on