Entering his second year in the league, New Orleans Saints’ defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson has the confidence and heart to lead the secondary.
New Orleans Saints’ fans were not always kind to C.J. Gardner-Johnson during his rookie season. While many loved his hard-hitting techniques, fans sat back and put the bulk of the blame for the team’s shoot-out loss to the San Francisco 49ers on C.J.
His two critical third-down penalties did arguably give up a touchdown at a crucial point in the game, virtually putting the game and a top playoff spot out of reach, but Gardner-Johnson rookie season should’ve been known for much more than just that.
Playing just over half of the snaps defensively and a good bit on special teams, C.J. ended the season with under an 8% missed tackle rate. For reference, Marshon Lattimore, the Saints’ prized superstar cornerback, was even over 8%.
That said, Gardner-Johnson’s versatility as a free safety, strong safety or defensive back was both unique for the Saints and wildly helpful at times. That’s what his rookie season should be known for, and he’s ready to make his second one that much better.
The team’s fourth-round pick in 2019, Gardner-Johnson recently spoke with Saints’ columnist John DeShazier about the upcoming season and how he’s set to excel in his second year with the team.
“I was just getting started. I wasn’t comfortable because there were still moments, as a young player, I’d have a mental (error). Now, everybody is like, ‘You looked very mature.’ Nah, I was nervous more than anything.”
Gardner-Johnson went on to speak about his comfort level with different positions and how he’s bringing more confidence with him in his second season after the team’s first-round Wild Card loss to Minnesota, one that he’ll certainly remember throughout his career.
Doing a little bit of everything during the 52% of defensive snaps he was in for, Gardner-Johnson had an interception, fumble recovery and eight pass deflections all while notching 49 combined tackles.
Having watched Vonn Bell leave in free agency, Gardner-Johnson may see an uptick in snaps at free safety, a position he seems comfortable in. While the team did replace Bell with Malcolm Jenkins, Gardner-Johnson will surely still get enough to snaps to prove he’s one of the best up-and-coming players on the defense.
Expect a big year from CJG in 2020.