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C.J. Gardner-Johnson explodes in sophomore season

Ceedy Duce turned into one of the best slot DBs in the NFL in year two

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Ceedy Duce a/k/a Chauncey Gardner, Jr. a/k/a C.J. Gardner-Johnson - whatever you want to call him - exploded onto the scene in his second season with the New Orleans Saints. A former fourth round pick from the University of Florida in 2019, Gardner-Johnson started as a special teams role player in year one, and quickly flashed to become a full-time starter in his second season.

Divisional Round - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

CJGJ had career numbers this season, tallying 66 tackles with 52 solo tackles, 5 tackles for loss, an interception and 13 pass defended. He stepped into a starting spot in the nickel position, and in today’s NFL the nickel cornerback is an essential starting position.

His stats are great for a second year player, but a more significant number is 3: The number of NFL wide receivers that have punched him in the face. Michael Thomas, Anthony Miller, and of course Javon Wims (the latter two of the Chicago Bears) have been fooled by Gardner-Johnson’s trash talk and threw a punch that got them thrown out of games or suspended by their own team.

Garnder-Johnson emerged as one of the most talked-about players in the league because of his elite level trash talking ability. He is a lot more than just an enforcer, as he had a Jamal Adams-like impact in the run game. Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen found a ton of ways to incorporate Gardner-Johnson’s skill set into the Saints defense in 2020.

Since CJ’s arrival two years ago, the Saints defense has been one of the top defenses in the league, and it’s likely not just a coincidence. The Saints’ record-breaking run defense was anchored by the front seven, but a strong-tackling secondary is extremely important too, and CJGJ led the way.

A versatile hybrid safety is the new normal for NFL secondaries, and Gardner-Johnson fits that mold lining up all over the field. Slot corner was the most common position, where he up for 685 plays out of his 1,123 total snaps. He also lined up as a box safety for 103 snaps and a surprisingly 95 snaps at defensive line. His snaps lining up on the line of scrimmage is a testament to his ability to blitz the passer where he had four quarterback hits and a sack in 2020.

Ceedy Duce is very talented on the field, but he’s also a fun player to get to know off the field. In his spare time, he makes music, and he’s arguably just as good in the studio as he is on the field. He already has multiple songs and albums, plus a couple of features with teammates Terron Armstead (a/k/a T. Stead) and Kwon Alexander.

The Saints locker room has competition for best rapper on the team, though. Next up, we need to hear coach Sean Payton get into an old school rap battle with the trash-talking Gardner-Johnson.

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