By Adam Aniba
Washington's acquisition of over a dozen undrafted free agents has been well documented. One particular UDFA was mentioned by name during a recent team presser. Despite rookie Ferrod Gardner missing time during mandatory camp, Ron Rivera made it clear he has his eye on the hybrid prospect.
"Ferrod is a guy we're gonna take a long look at for the Buffalo Nickel."
Although Gardner predominantly lined up at WLB/MLB during his collegiate career, early indications are that the Commanders envision him in a hybrid role. WIll Gardner be able to step into that Buffalo Nickel role as a rookie? Rivera wants to see more, but taking a look at Gardener's background might paint a better picture of what to expect from the Rajun Cajun this season.
6'1" 215 lbs | LB/S | Louisiana
Career LU (45 games) 237 tak (128 solo), 6.5 sacks, 1 int, 5 PD & 14 TFLs
2021(11 games) 67 tak (30 solo), 1.5 sacks, 1 int, 3 PD & 5 TFLs
Gardner moved from Atlanta, GA to play for Trotwood-Madison High in Dayton, OH for his freshman season. During his last two seasons, Gardner was elected to the 1st-Team All-Conference team with a 37-7 overall record during his time at Trotwood-Madison.
His senior season was his best, registering 103 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks and 8 pass breakups. Gardner led his team to a 12-2 record and a trip to the division semi finals, capping off his senior season.
Gardner was named to the 3rd-team All-State team as a senior, garnering attention from Georgia State, Kentucky, Missouri and Bowling Green. He initially committed to Bowling Green, but a short time later decommited. Gardener instead opted to join Missouri as a walk-on for the '15 season, but was redshirted with no opportunity to see the field. The following season, Gardner attended Coffeyville Community College, playing in 10 games, recording 67 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 fumbles, 1 fumble returned for as score and 1 interception.
His performance at Coffeyville, gained the attention of Louisiana. Ultimately, Gardner joined the Louisiana Ragin Cajun squad for the '19 season, playing in 13 games (50 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss and 2 defended passes). During the next four seasons, Gardner would play every linebacker position based on team necessity/ team injuries.
In September 2020, Gardner had his statement game at WLB vs Iowa State, leading the team with 9 tackles and a timely sack. The upset victory over the Cyclones, led to a top #20 spot in the AP Coaches Poll and the highest ranking the Ragin Cajuns had in years. His 7 tackles for a loss and his 4.5 sacks, were career marks for the linebacker.
Gardner put it all together in 2021, garnering an Honorable mention All-Conference and displaying tremendous strides in coverage. He set a career mark in '21 with 3 passes defended (only 2 in his career prior to '21). His 5 tackles for a loss came in key situations for the Ragin Cajuns with Gardner frequently setting the tempo for the defense vs the run.
Quick twitch athlete with a nose for the ball
Displays solid coverage insects
Displayed the versatility to play multiple positions
Decent lateral movement, aids him in coverage drops
Still improving in zone coverage (solid gains in '21)
Effectively sets the edge vs the run
Needs to work on counter moves, had issues disengaging from blockers
Stiff in his back pedal, needs to lower his base
Too easily pushed off the ball on designed runs
Although he showed gains in coverage, man assignments should be limited early in his career
Limited overall ability as a pass rusher
Can get caught up in the wash, along the line of scrimmage when flowing to the ball
Washington signed multiple undrafted linebackers post-draft, but Gardner is the only one mentioned thus far by Rivera as a potential option in Buffalo Nickel alignments. Gardner will compete with Khaleke Hudson among others for the sub-package role, but will also have to stand out on special teams early as a backend roster hopeful.
His 4.65-4.7 second timed forty speed won't wow onlookers, but Gardner is a smart player who utilizes angles and displays the ability to quickly diagnose passing concepts. It's unlikely that Landon Collins will be brought back, thus the Buffalo Nickel role could be up for grabs.
Gardner showed enough gains as a coverage linebacker in '21, that he'll get a shot to make the team in a sub-package role. Staying healthy is key because even one day missed during training camp, could lead to an early camp release.
Although Gardner can be a valuable asset on the practice squad, he'll get an opportunity with his former teammate Percy Butler, to show coaches that their intensity/versatility translates to the NFL.
Gardner will have to make an early impression in a hybrid role to have a chance at making the 53-man roster, but with more depth needed, the opportunity will be available for the Ragin Cajun.
*Games Watched- 9/4/21 vs Texas, 10/2 vs S.Bama, 10/12 vs App St, 10/21 vs ARk St., 11/3 vs Troy, 11/20 vs Liberty, 11/20 vs Texas Tech. 11/27 vs ULM and 12/4 vs App St. (Sun Belt Champ)