Cincinnati Bearcats' Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner to forgo final year of college football eligibility, enter NFL draft

Cincinnati runs a blocked field goal back for a TD (0:37)

Arquon Bush blocks the East Carolina field goal, then Ahmad Gardner scoops up the ball and runs it back for a touchdown. (0:37)

Cincinnati Bearcats cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner will skip his final year of eligibility and enter the 2022 NFL draft, he announced Tuesday.

Gardner, a consensus All-American, was a unanimous choice as the AAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 as one of the top cover cornerbacks in the country.

"I will always cherish the memories I have of going undefeated at Nippert Stadium and playing on the biggest stages with your cheering me on," Gardner said in a statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday. "... The last three years have been incredible and I'm proud of what I accomplished at the University of Cincinnati. I'm ready to take the next step and compete in the NFL."

Gardner also thanked Bearcats coach Luke Fickell "for developing a culture that allowed me to be myself."

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. lists Gardner as the 16th overall best player available in the 2022 draft -- and the second-best cornerback -- in his latest position rankings.

Gardner has been recognized by ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who lists the cornerback at No. 15 among all players entering the draft, as having strong recognition ability in zone coverage.

He had 40 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 3 interceptions, 4 pass breakups and a forced fumble to help Cincinnati to a 13-1 record and a berth in the College Football Playoff semifinals. When quarterbacks targeted Gardner this season, they had a passer rating of 26.1 -- the lowest of any player in the nation.