Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner's career blossomed at the University of Cincinnati, but he hasn't forgotten that his roots are in Detroit.
Gardner is the top rated cornerback in this year's draft. Some projections have him being picked as high as fourth overall by the New York Jets.
Gardner spoke at his Combine media interview about the heights the Bear Cats ascended to in his three seasons at Cincinnati and the support he got from his family and the coaching staff at Detroit Martin Luther King.
Cincinnati went 13-0 before losing to Alabama in the national championship tournament.
"Cincinnati always came to visit me," Gardner said. "They talked to me a lot. They said they had something planned. I wanted to be a part of what they had going on."
The support he got from home was even more valuable.
"What I did have was a mother (Alisa) who always made the impossible possible," Gardner said. "Things that I wanted, she would give me a hard time when I'm asking for it ... She's my hero.
"Detroit's not a place where anybody can live. You have to be strong minded or you'll fall by the wayside. I had strict parents."
Following is a look at the 2022 cornerback class draft strength, the Lions' depth and draft priority, and five cornerbacks who could fit the Lions.
Cornerback class draft strength: It's a strong class with talent and depth.
Lions' CB depth chart: The Lions have gotten younger and better with the following cornerbacks on the roster: Mark Gilbert, Mike Hughes, Jerry Jacobs, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Parnell Motley, Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, AJ Parker, Bobby Price, Saivion Smith.
Lions' CB draft priority: I wouldn't expect them to draft a cornerback before the third round, given their other needs.
Five cornerbacks who could interest the Lions.
(40-yard dash times are from Combine and Pro Day workouts as available.)
1. Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, Cincinnati:
6-3, 190. 4.41 40-yard dash.
A three-year player, on a Bearcats team that attained national prominence in 2021. Gardner's athleticism and physical makeup – height, long arms and speed – made him an asset on a team that made it to the national championship tournament.
Gardner had six interceptions in 20 games in his first two seasons combined. He added three interceptions and five tackles for loss for the 2021 Bearcats, who went 13-0 before losing to Alabama in the tournament.
2. Derek Stingley Jr., LSU:
A three-year player, with two seasons cut short. Stingley played all 15 games in 2019 and performed like a future star. He had 31 solo tackles in 2019 and six interceptions.
He was limited to seven games in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic and to three games by injury in 2021. He sustained a Lisfranc injury in his left foot before LSU's Week 4 game in 2021. He did not work out at the Combine.
Before the injury Stingley was rated a top 10 prospect by most analysts.
3. Trent McDuffie, Washington:
5-11, 193. 4.44 40-yard dash.
Coaches recognized his ability immediately. He was a backup for the first two games in 2019, then started the next 11. He was limited to four games in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic and started 11 games in 2021.
McDuffie had two interceptions, 10 passes defended, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
View photos from the community celebration downtown to commemorate the awarding of the 2024 NFL Draft to Detroit.
4. Kaiir Elam, Florida:
6-1.5, 191. 4.39 40-yard dash.
A three-year player and two-year starter, Elam played 35 games for the Gators. He was around the ball, as his career stats indicate – six interceptions, 26 passes defended and a fumble recovery.
In 2021, Elam had three pass breakups against Alabama and two against Samford. His father, Abe, played seven seasons in the NFL as a defensive back.
5. Tariq Woolen UTSA (sleeper):
6-4, 205. 4.26 40-yard dash, 42-inch vertical jump.
A four-year player after a 2017 redshirt season, Woolen switched to cornerback after playing wide receiver his first two seasons at UTSA. A high school wide receiver, Woolen switched to cornerback for his last two seasons at UTSA.
After the switch, Woolen had two interceptions – one each in 2020 and '21 – and 11 passes defended. Woolen would be considered a project player. Someone will take a chance on him because of his athleticism.