By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport


It’s not that often that a player enters the NFL with a nickname that sticks. Plenty have them in college, but once you hit the NFL you have to earn that catchy moniker. Show that you belong among the best of the best.

Ahmad Gardner of the New York Jets has done that—to the point that very few people refer to him by his given name in print or on TV.

He’s “Sauce.” In a season in change, Gardner has already developed a reputation as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL after taking home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2022. But while speaking to Zack Rosenblatt of the Athletic, Gardner said he doesn’t just want to be one of the most feared cornerbacks in the league. He wants to be remembered as one of the best corners the Jets have ever had.

“When you think of cornerbacks, you think Darrelle Revis,” Gardner said. “That’s a goal, to get to that type of position where it’s, like, when I hear the Jets and I think of cornerbacks, I think about Revis and Sauce. I know that’s going to take a lot of work. He put in a lot of time and effort to get where he is. I’m only in Year 2, so I got a long road. I begin with the end in mind, but when it’s time, I’m just taking it one step at a time.”

Gardner will face a stiff test this week when A.J. Brown and the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles come to MetLife Stadium. And in terms of stats like passer rating against and completion percentage against, Gardner’s numbers are down relative to 2022.

But make no mistake. As great a receiver as Brown is, he’s going to have to work for every catch in Week 6. And it’s possible Jalen Hurts takes the path of least resistance and just avoids Gardner, especially if Jets corner D.J. Reed is out.

You’re starting Brown, because of course you are. But this is more likely to be a floor week than a ceiling one.


Washington Commanders at Atlanta Falcons (Terry McLaurin vs. A.J. Terrell)

Two years ago, A.J. Terrell was a second-team All-Pro—a player on the verge of becoming a star at his position. But last year, he backslid significantly, to the point that there were rumbles that maybe his breakout 2021 wasn’t such a breakout after all. Terrell told the team’s website he learned a valuable lesson from last year—that even young players need to be vigilant about taking care of their bodies.

"I'm focused on taking care of my body," he said. "The older we get, the more the body wants to shut down. I'm already starting to feel it and understand what the older guys have been talking about all these years. You have to respect the body and do what I'm supposed to do to be able to come out here and play at 100 percent."

That might sound odd coming from a 24-year-old, but it appears to be paying off—Terrell’s completion percentage against is under 54 percent, and his passer rating against is down almost 20 points relative to a season ago. In Terrell’s lone “shadow” assignment so far this season, he did allow a touchdown—but Calvin Ridley of the Jacksonville Jaguars was targeted just twice in the game.

I’d say this could be a Jahan Dotson game, but after five weeks even I can’t talk myself into that. Curtis Samuel, on the other hand? Maybe.


Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans (Marlon Humphrey vs. DeAndre Hopkins)

Humphrey made his 2023 debut last week, and in at least one respect it was an inauspicious one—he gave up the game-winning touchdown catch to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens. On his “Punch Line” podcast (of course Humphrey has one—don’t we all), the veteran corner did something players at his position rarely do—admitted he got beat.

“They were throwing a lot of back shoulders, I thought it could have been a back shoulder coming, but (Kenny) Pickett put it on the money. He put it on the money. But you get over it. You soak in it. You bathe in it. And then you wash it off.”

In fairness to Humphrey, it was his first game action of 2023, and he was on an island in a Cover-0 blitz. But that confidence in him in Week 5 would seem to indicate he’ll draw Hopkins in Week 6. It sets up a fascinating matchup between a potentially elite but rusty cornerback and a potentially elite wideout playing in an inconsistent (at best) passing game.


San Francisco 49ers at Cleveland Browns (Brandon Aiyuk vs. Denzel Ward)

The San Francisco 49ers are an offensive buzzsaw right now. Quarterback Brock Purdy is most assuredly relevant. Running back Christian McCaffrey looks like it’s 2019 all over again. The passing game is loaded. And as wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk told reporters after last week’s demolition of the Dallas Cowboys, those pass-catchers are all just waiting their turn to go off.

“You wait your turn to make a play and try to make all the plays that come your way. We all know that it can be any given week, and that’s super fun, super exciting because we know if you keep your head down and put your work in, eventually, it’s going to come back around to you. I think we’ve all been through so much stuff together — grinding together. We all share similar struggles. It’s always a good feeling for yourself when you get to have your time to go out there and do what you want to do.

Last week, it was Kittle’s turn to erupt with three touchdown grabs. To date this season, the Browns have allowed fewer fantasy points per game to wide receivers than any team in the league. And Denzel Ward is arguably a top-10 cornerback. But the way this offense is playing and the way that Purdy is slinging perfectly-placed throws 20 and 30 yards downfield, there’s no way I’m sitting the 49ers No. 1 wideout.

And Brandon Aiyuk is San Francisco’s No. 1 wideout.


Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Chargers (Stephon Gilmore vs. Josh Palmer)

With Mike Williams hurt (again), it has fallen to Josh Palmer to serve as the No. 2 receiver for a 2-2 Chargers team facing a massive game out of the bye against the Dallas Cowboys. But according to David Marcillo of RotoBaller, Palmer is a fantasy play that’s more about a meh WR3 floor than a week-winning fantasy ceiling.

“Palmer should be a solid depth option in a Week 6 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football,” he wrote. “Palmer has moved into a larger role since Mike Williams (knee) was lost for the season, and he's been a fantasy WR3 for two weeks in a row, combining for 22 fantasy points in Weeks 3 and 4. Palmer has some big play upside, he ranks 16th in the NFL with seven deep targets, but he's shown the ability to play underneath and secure shorter gains as well. He has a decent floor, but the upside is all on Keenan Allen this and most weeks in the Chargers passing game.”

It’s possible that Cowboys will shadow Allen with top corner Stephon Gilmore, who has some experience playing the slot. But it’s equally likely that a Dallas defense that has allowed the third fewest PPR points to wide receivers just plays it straight, in which case Palmer is going to see a lot of the last cornerback to be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Last week’s meltdown in San Francisco notwithstanding, this is still a very good Dallas defense—and Palmer could be hard-pressed to post even WR3 numbers.


New Orleans Saints at Houston Texans (Chris Olave vs. Steven Nelson)

Sunday’s game between the Texans and Saints is a reunion of sorts—Houston quarterback C.J. Stroud and New Orleans wideout Chris Olave enjoyed quite a bit of success as a pitch-and-catch duo at Ohio State. Olave hit the NFL a year earlier, and his former quarterback told reporters that he’s not at all surprised that he did so successfully.

"I think he's very slept on with his route-running," Stroud said. "He's got very clean body language. He's virtually fast and makes every route look the same, which is very hard on defensive backs. He plays at one speed, which is really really fast. I think his hands are underrated too. He catches everything even if he gets one hand on it."

At this point you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Nelson yet. The reason is he won’t shadow Olave. No one will. DeMeco Ryans’ defense in Houston is among the league leaders in zone coverage—and it’s working. Five weeks into the 2023 campaign, the Texans are 29th in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers. Frankly, I’d feel a lot better about Olave in Week 6 if Stroud was still throwing them the ball—my confidence level in Derek Carr’s ability to find the hole in the one and make the throw is low—partly because his arm isn’t right.

Gary Davenport is a contributing author and associate editor at Football Diehards. Follow him on Twitter @IDPSharks