The New Orleans safety is gaining a reputation for his agitating and tenacious coverage skills - but his upcoming third season in the NFL under Kris Richard should worry opposing offensive coordinators.
Call him Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, aka Ceedy Duce, CJGJ, Instigator, or the NFL's Biggest Agitator - whatever you call him, also call him a problem for the league's offensive coordinators.
CJGJ is evolving into an elite coverage defender.
"Around the NFL' writer, Nick Shook gave a breakdown of the Next Gen Stats' top 10 coverage players of 2020.
The top ten defenders had a "minimum of 300 coverage snaps and 40 targets" to be qualified for Shook's analysis. Other metrics he used were "maximum passer rating of 80, catch rate allowed, a negative targeted expected points, and tight-window percentage of 20 percent (15 percent for linebackers)."
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GARDNER-JOHNSON ANALYTICS BY NFL.COM
How did Gardner-Johnson rate among the other top coverage defensive players?
CJGJ was ranked No. 8 on the list. Here are his analytics:
- Passer rating allowed: 73.1
- Catch rate allowed below expectation: -8.1%
- Tight window pct: 21.4%
- Target rate: 20.2%
- Average separation: 2.9 yards
- Targeted expected points added: -15.9
New Orleans "realized he's best when using his physicality to his advantage, playing off coverage on just 28 percent of snaps." Last season the percentage was 60.
Gardner-Johnson is a highly competitive player. His Intense and rambunctious style has garnered praise from some and made enemies of others.
Neither will faze him.
Nevertheless, it works well in Saints' defensive coordinator Dennis Allen's scheme.
He plays the slot defender position much taller and larger than his 5-11 and 210-pound stature. Ex-Saints DB Coach Aaron Glenn had confidence in him to cover 6-4+ tall tight ends such as Rob Gronkowski (6-6, Bucs), Kyle Rudolph (6-6, Vikings), George Kittle (6-4, 49ers), and the top tight end in receiving yards for 2020, Travis Kelce (6-5, Chiefs).
This season, he will welcome fellow Florida Gator alum Kyle Pitts (6-6, Falcons), to the NFC South. You better believe Gardner-Johnson is ready for the challenge.
GARDNER-JOHNSON STATS & COVERAGE GRADES
In 31 career games, Ceedy Duce has 115 tackles, two interceptions, 21 passes defended, 11 TFL, eight QB hits, one sack, and one forced fumble.
The 2020 Pro Football Focus coverage grade for CJGJ was 61.5. His overall defensive grade fell from 70.9 to 60.3 in his rookie season. Yet, he did excel in pash rush at 79.0.
Pestering a receiver suits him the best - a point recognized by the New Orleans coaching staff in 2019's rookie minicamp.
Glenn said to reporters at that camp about Gardner-Johnson," you saw a body that is you like that's built to last. You can do a lot of things with him. You're not afraid to put them in a box." He continued, "We're just excited to have him and should be able to make schemes for us to use this player, to make sure his personality is used out there."
Aaron Glenn - Former Saints DB Coach
GARDNER -JOHNSON CONTRACT AND FUTURE
C.J. Gardner-Johnson, 23, is entering the third season of his 4-year, $3.3M contract. He is set to earn a base salary of $850,000 and $196,025 of his signing bonus in 2021.
The Saints' defensive backfield will be slightly modified in 2021 since Glenn accepted the defensive coordinator's position with the Detroit Lions under former Saints assistant head coach Dan Campbell.
The unit will be in good hands with veteran secondary coach Kris Richard taking control of the DB room.
Richard was the coach who developed Seattle's 'Legion of Boom' defensive backs with players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.
New Orleans held its first OTA workouts for veterans two weeks ago. It will be interesting to see how Richard will continue to cultivate Gardner-Johnson's maturing coverage skills.
Richard once told Dallas reporters that he wants defenders who have "length, strength, [and] create issues at the line of scrimmage. We want to cause as many problems as we can for an offense before the ball is even snapped."
If CJGJ reads this statement, it should be sweet music to his ears - this is how he plays, which is his game.
Will Gardner-Johnson dominate under Richard this season?
We shall see.