Things are going to look a lot different across the NFL this season, as more and more tidbits leak out regarding how the league and teams are going to handle 2020. On Friday, word traveled fast that the New Orleans Saints were allowing season ticket holders to opt-out of the season. The Baltimore Ravens have already announced that their stadium would only allow a 14,000 max capacity for fan seating. Hopefully things get better, but it's certainly a trying time across the world. For now, we continue our countdown of our top Saints of 2020.
No. 23 - C.J. Gardner-Johnson
C.J. Gardner-Johnson appeared in all 16 games for the Saints in 2020, starting in 7 of those contests. He finished with 46 tackles (35 solo), an interception against the Falcons on Thanksgiving, 8 pass defenses, 3 special teams stops, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Things were relatively quiet for Gardner-Johnson to start the season, but that all changed when the Saints took on the Bears in Week 7. He went on to make 6 total tackles in the game in his first career start.
Gardner-Johnson appeared in 546 snaps for New Orleans last season, which was just over 51 percent of the team's defensive snaps. He had a season-high 8 tackles in back-to-back games against the Colts and Titans in mid-December. His performance helped him get selected to PFWA's All-Rookie team along with Deonte Harris. In short, the fourth-round, 105th overall pick out of Florida ended up being one of the best steals of the NFL draft.
CJGJ's Outlook in 2020
Gardner-Johnson looks to be the favorite for handling slot duties for the Saints defense in 2020. The team did re-sign P.J. Williams in early April, so there could be competition and splitting time between the two as the nickel back. However in June, secondary coach Aaron Glenn said this on the Gardner-Johnson:
"Getting better mentally and understanding our scheme to a tee. Getting better in coverage because he will be playing a good amount of nickel-back for us in the slot. He'll be covering top level receivers in the slot and we're not afraid to put him in there and let him cover guys because he has that skill set. He's uniquely built for the nickel because he's very compact. He's 210 pounds so he's able to play in the box, he's able to make tackles just like P.J. (Williams) did."
C.J. Gardner-Johnson is one of the most important second-year players the Saints have going into the new season, and he should be called upon to make an impact for Dennis Allen's defense.