Florham Park, NJ (AP) — Sous Gardner was relaxing on the plane ride from the NFL Draft in Las Vegas to his new playing home in New Jersey when the magnitude of what was actually happening began to sink in.
The former Cincinnati cornerback was the No. 4 pick overall by the New York Jets. And sitting there with him were wide receivers Garrett Wilson, the 10th overall pick from Ohio State, and Jermaine Johnson, who finished 26th from Florida State.
They were a trio of friends—and first-round players—to help turn the fortunes of a disheartened franchise.
“We were really alike, it was for all of us to be on the same team,” Gardner said on Saturday.
Gardner and Johnson trained together in Texas to reach the draft in April, along with eventual Jets selections Bryce Hall (second round) and Michael Clemons (fourth round).
“It’s like a blessing for all of us to be on the same team,” Gardner said. “I don’t think I’m just like the Good Luck Charm, but it’s like every team I always have something unique in.”
Like their Bearcats team making the college football playoffs for the first time in school history before losing to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.
“This program, it reminds me a lot of Cincinnati,” Gardner said. “And I think this year, we’re going to make a big difference.”
The Jets and their fans are counting on it.
New York has gone 11 seasons without a place in the playoffs, the longest active postseason drought in the league. The Jets are coming off a 4–13 campaign, a first under coach Robert Saleh, but their impressive draft messed up the organization.
It marked the second time in franchise history during the modern draft era – since 1970 – that the Jets had more than two picks in the opening round and the first time in 2000 was a record four selections.
General Manager Joe Douglas made six picks after taking on Gardner to fill a major need in the secondary, giving quarterback Zach Wilson an explosive playthrough in Garrett Wilson. However, he was not done with the deal to promote a crowd close to Johnson to return in the first round with Tennessee.
Now the three players will be tied together forever – with high hopes that their Jet legacy will be marked by lots of victories.
“I know none of us have a problem with those expectations,” Johnson said.
There is a certain swagger with which all three carry themselves. Gardner’s diamond-studded “Sauce” medal on Draft Night was a clear demonstration of that. His confidence on the field belies his rookie position.
“We all have the mindset to be the best teammate,” Johnson said. “You know, we’re rookies, so we’ve got to earn our keeps, especially to earn it for being a voice in this team. And that comes with doing things the right way, 110% going and a good partner.
“So, I mean, we’re all on that track and we’ll see what happens.”
So far, so good through four camp exercises.
Gardner has been solid, sparring with Bryce Hall in the competition for a starting spot opposite DJ Reed.
“I mean, that guy is a dog, he really is a dog,” said Garrett Wilson, who has matched Gardner several times this summer. “He’s really good, good with his hands, and puts himself in the right landscape a lot of the time.”
Wilson has been one of the offense’s early standouts, making several impressive catches and building quick chemistry with his quarterback.
“He’s very, very athletic,” Saleh said. “He has incredible physical control and power. He has great hands. He’s explosive in and out of his brakes. He’s very playful in and out of his brakes. He’s talented.”
Johnson has been working in a rotation on the Jets’ deepest and arguably best unit, a defensive line that includes seasoned veterans like Quinnon Williams, Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers, and youngsters like Johnson, who had 12 sacks last season. Was and was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s phenomenal, bro,” Williams said of Johnson. “He’s a very outspoken boy, a very explosive boy, a very talented boy. … He’s a beast, bro.”
It’s still just practice, of course. And there are still weeks before the first preseason game.
But Gardner, Wilson and Johnson are passing the opening test – while fellow first-rounders depend on each other.
“It takes a lot of pressure off because you have people to talk to who are going through the same things you’re going through, the same expectations,” Wilson said. “When you’re in the first round, you’re expected to come in and make an immediate impact.
“I think we hold each other to high standards. But we also know that this is new to each of us and we are able to talk to each other, talk to each other . and it’s been really good, for sure.”
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