When University of Cincinnati consensus All-American cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner hears his name called in the 2022 NFL Draft, Bearcats coach Luke Fickell will be by his side.
Gardner, one of 21 prospects who will attend the first round of the draft Thursday in Las Vegas, is projected to be the first Cincinnati player off the board. Gardner will kick off what is expected to be a record-setting draft for the two-time defending American Athletic Conference champions.
Document:We should all enjoy Desmond Ridder’s NFL Draft experience
2022 NFL Draft Preview: CB Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner could make Cincinnati draft history
2022 NFL Draft Preview: Will Cincinnati Bearcats QB Desmond Ridder be a first-round pick?
“I’m so excited,” Fickell told The Enquirer. “I’m so excited for those guys. All of them have – in my opinion – played above their God-given abilities, meaning they’ve developed themselves in so many ways. This is that day where so much of that hard work, those passions that you have, those dreams that they’ve had, they become a reality.”
The record for the most Cincinnati players selected in a single draft is six. That happened in 2009, after the then-Brian Kelly-led Bearcats earned the first of two straight BCS bowl berths. Second-round pick Connor Barwin (Philadelphia Eagles) and longtime Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber were the headliners of that Cincinnati draft class.
Fickell’s Bearcats are expected to break the record over the three-day, seven-round draft after having eight players invited to the NFL scouting combine.
“Yeah, selfishly speaking, we look at it as how do we get it to help the program? How do we continue to promote that and show the program? But really, these three days come down to it being so different and so special to each one of those guys. I don’t want to be pounding the chest for the program. This is the one time when some of that individual stuff where you just want the guys to have their moment.
“Cincinnati will be promoted and be seen, but I want them, their smile, their character, their heart to be seen. This is that selfish, individual thing that I really want you to enjoy.”
Here’s a look at Cincinnati’s 2022 NFL Draft hopefuls:
C. B. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior consensus All-American has been projected as being selected as high as No. 2 overall to the Detroit Lions, Gardner’s hometown team. The Lions drafted former Cincinnati defensive lineman Bob Bell with the 21st overall pick in 1971.
Another popular landing spot for the unanimous 2021 AAC Defensive Player of the Year is the New York Jets at the fourth overall pick. If Gardner is a top-four pick, he’ll make Cincinnati draft history. Late Bearcats Hall of Fame quarterback Greg Cook owns the record for the highest-drafted UC football player. Cook was the fifth overall pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1969 draft.
Sports Betting Dime has the over/under for Gardner set at pick No. 6.5. Draft experts at The Sports Gambling Podcast Network have the over/under for Gardner set at pick No. 7.5. Tipico Sportsbook, partner of USA TODAY Sports, has Gardner’s over/under position at 8.5.
QB Desmond Ridder
The two-time AAC Offensive Player of the Year started four seasons for the Bearcats after redshirting his freshman campaign. Ridder is the third-winningest quarterback in the history of college football, compiling a 44-7 record and leading Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff in 2021.
If 6-foot-3, 211-pound Louisville, Kentucky, native lands in the first round with Gardner, the Bearcats would have two players selected in the opening round of the NFL draft for the first time in program history.
Sports Betting Dime has the over/under for Ridder set at pick No. 31.5. Draft experts at The Sports Gambling Podcast Network has the over/under for Ridder set at pick No. 23.5. Ridder also is +1000 (10-1 odds) to be the first quarterback selected, according to Tipico Sportsbook.
WR Alec Pierce
The 6-foot-3, 211-pound senior was Ridder’s top target over the last three seasons. Pierce led Cincinnati with 652 receiving yards and a 17.6 yards-per-catch average in 2019. He followed that by racking up 18.5 yards per reception in 2020 and earning second-team All-AAC honors last season.
Pierce raced onto NFL radars after posting a 4.41-second 40-yard dash and a 40.5-inch vertical at the combine in March.
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