Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner declared for the 2022 NFL Draft on Tuesday. In three seasons with the Bearcats, Gardner helped lead the program to two AAC championships and a College Football Playoff appearance --  all while not allowing a single receiving touchdown throughout his career. 

"Thank you for your support these last three years," Gardner said in a statement on Twitter. "You are the best fans in the world and I will always cherish the memories I have of going undefeated at Nippert Stadium and playing on the biggest stages with you cheering me on." 

Gardner ranked among the best defensive players in college football during a storied career for the Bearcats. Rated the No. 1672 prospect in the 2019 recruiting class, Gardner quickly established himself as an all-conference player, and later an All-American. 

In his three years with the Bearcats, Gardner posted 99 tackles, 16 passes defended and nine interceptions. Gardner had more pick-sixes (two) than receiving touchdowns allowed -- zero -- and allowed just 712 total receiving yards on 138 career targets. In 2021, Gardner became the first Cincinnati player in history to be honored as a consensus All-American. 

Cincinnati went 33-5 in Gardner's tenure with back-to-back top-10 status in the College Football Playoff Rankings. The Bearcats won 22 straight games to end his career and became the first Group of Five squad to make the College Football Playoff. Cincinnati lost 27-6 to No. 1 Alabama, but became the first team to hold Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young to fewer than 200 yards passing. 

Gardner's draft prospects

Gardner ranks as the No. 3 cornerback and No. 17 overall prospect in CBS Sports' 2022 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings. All three CBS Sports NFL Draft experts project Gardner as a first-round pick. Josh Edwards slots Gardner as the No. 12 overall pick to Minnesota, while Chris Trapasso has Gardner heading to Baltimore. 

"Gardner is the perfect ultra-physical man-to-man cornerback for the Ravens defense," Trapasso writes.

With great length at 6-foot-2 and impressive fundamentals, Gardner has all the tools to be an early contributor for an NFL squad. He allowed just 43.5% of targets to be caught in his career and held receivers to just 6.6 yards per reception as a junior. Gardner allowed just 14 total yards in the CFP matchup with Alabama. 

Exodus at Cincinnati

With Gardner officially out, Cincinnati is expected to lose nine starters on the defensive side of the ball. In addition to Gardner, fellow cornerback Coby Bryant and defensive end Myjai Sanders rank among the top 100 prospects on the CBS Sports draft board. Quarterback Desmond Ridder, running back Jerome Ford and defensive lineman Curtis Brooks will also likely be drafted. 

Cincinnati is now in a state of transition after fielding the best team in program history. Luckily, the Bearcats are stringing together their third straight No. 1 AAC recruiting class, including commitments from blue-chip recruits Mario Eugenio and JQ Hardaway. Don't expect Cincinnati to be down for long.