Florida Gators safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was selected by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 105 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft during Saturday’s fourth round.
He slid to Day 3 of the draft despite being projected as a possible top-50 selection.
Gardner-Johnson lived up to expectations at Florida after arriving in Gainesville as a highly touted 4-star prospect as part of the 2016 recruiting class.
The 21-year-old Cocoa High School (Florida) product emerged as a starter for the Gators during his freshman campaign and remained a fixture in the team’s defensive backfield for each of the past two seasons, though his role changed at times.
Along with safety, Gardner-Johnson also saw playing time as a slot corner, which helped bolster his draft stock. Tyrann Mathieu, who signed a three-year, $42 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent in March, has illustrated the value of versatility throughout his six-year NFL career.
“I’m the most versatile DB in this draft. That’s how I feel,” Gardner-Johnson told reporters at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine in March.
“It’s big because you can put me anywhere. I’m not limited to one position,” he added. “I can be used in base, in nickel. In the nickel, I can cover down in the slot, be in against the post, come off the hash and that half of the field. I can do anything coaches put me at no matter where I go.”
The Saints obviously hope he develops into a perennial Pro Bowl performer, but it’s always important to consider the potential downside. In this case, his versatility limits the bust potential of the pick since he’s likely to carve out a niche for himself, even if he doesn’t become a top-tier safety.
Gardner-Johnson should make his initial impact as the team’s slot corner as a rookie in New Orleans with Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell locked in as the starters at safety.
The last time the Saints dipped a hand into the Swamp in Gainesville to acquire new talent was in 2017 when they took linebacker Alex Anzalone with the 76th selection in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Garner-Johnson could be next in line.
The most recent role played by the junior out of Cocoa, Florida, in 2018, was as nickel back under first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. And as is sometimes the case with players at this level you’ll see Gardner-Johnson listed in places as either safety, nickelback or cornerback.
Make no mistake about it. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson can play all three. And would perfectly suit what the Saints need in Dennis Allen’s defense in 2019.
As a safety, Gardner-Johnson can play nickel along with strong safety Vonn Bell and free safety Marcus Williams. At an even 6-foot-0 and 207-pounds, Gardner-Johnson is a little slight for any extended time on the field at strong safety, but he can work in where Patrick Robinson and P.J. Williams were working in 2018.
With the Saints having let go of strong safety Kurt Coleman last week, the way has been cleared to use Von Bell exclusively as the Saints starting strong safety.
Gardner-Johnson has the speed and range to go sideline to sideline in coverage having started out his collegiate career at cornerback before being transitioned to safety in his junior campaign.
He took to the change in assignment well, finishing out his junior season with 71 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, three sacks and four interceptions.
Whether being groomed to follow up at nickel behind Patrick Robinson or playing alongside Vonn Bell at the line with the safeties, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has the ability to take his game to whatever level at whatever position in the secondary is required of him.
Projected by some to be a first-round talent, the Saint might need to have some luck on their side for him to fall to late in the second. But this is a top heavy draft and safety isn’t that huge a need for many other teams going into the 2019 Season.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is leaving school early and entering the NFL draft.
Gardner-Johnson announced his decision Monday night on Twitter. The junior plans to play in Florida’s bowl game.
Gardner-Johnson says he based his decision on wanting to maximize his value in the NFL draft.
He says “along with this decision, I want Gator Nation to know that I am 100 PERCENT COMMITTED to my team and this program as we look to finish the season strong at our bowl game next month.”
Gardner-Johnson has been one of Florida’s most improved players in 2018, posting 66 tackles, including nine for a loss. He also has three sacks and two interceptions.
The 11th-ranked Gators (9-3) are expected to have several players leave early, including defensive end Jachai Polite, linebacker Vosean Joseph and offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor.