Our first foray into free agent cornerbacks takes a closer look at undrafted superstar, A.J Bouye. The Texans defensive back has gone from an unknown to one of the hottest pending free agent commodities on the market. Prior to 2016, Bouye played in just 185 defensive snaps. The year beforehand however, he played in 633 as a nickel corner, giving up 3 touchdowns and recording 3 touchdowns. More impressively however was the fact that Bouye averaged a total of 9.9 yards given up per completion
Bouye rejected a multiyear extension back in March, earning just $1.67 million this year. The 25-year old broke up 16 passes this season as well as racking up a total of 63 tackles and an interception during the regular season.
It was in the postseason, where Bouye turned the most heads. Intercepting a Tom Brady pass in their divisional round loss after leading the team with four passes defensed against debutant quarterback, Connor Cook.
Although Head Coach Bill O’Brien has gone on record as saying that the team want to bring Bouye back, the fact that the team have Jonathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson and Kareem Jackson to worry about may make things a little more complicated. It’s unlikely that Bouye will demand the same kind of contract signed by Josh Norman, but he could still be looking at a Byron Maxwell type deal. The question is, should the Eagles join the growing group of teams looking to pursue him once free agency opens?
To take a look at this, similarly to our wide receiver film room’s, we will be viewing Bouye’s play through a slightly different lens. Instead of looking at highlight plays, we’re looking at the subtle traits and attributes that set Bouye apart and make those plays possible. As well as examining how he fares in certain coverages, it’s a way of taking a more comprehensive look at the cornerback.
Breakfast and dinner:
There are two types of cornerbacks in the NFL. Those who look to win at the start of the route and those who make their impact at the top of it. The Eagles roster is filled with corners who attempt to assert their presence at the line of scrimmage, with varying success. A.J Bouye however, is a dinner cornerback..and his style could present a welcome change for the Eagles.
A really under-the-radar way of detecting this is the positioning of Bouye’s hands. Playing here in zone coverage and lining up against a very physical tight end in Delanie Walker, Bouye makes no attempt to jam the receiver or cut the route short, instead staying light on his feet and positioning himself in front of Walker on this Cover-3 look. Once Walker cuts inside, Bouye is then in perfect position to undercut a ball thrown to the inside of the tight end and break it up. By keeping the route alive, it gives the quarterback a glimmer of hope, assuming that Walker will get the break needed to create separation. For Bouye, keeping that separation to a minimum is a specialty.
The same can be seen in this look against the Broncos. Bouye keeps his eyes pinned on the receiver and ensures that he stays far enough ahead to make a saving tackle if needed, knowing that there’s no help over the top. Bouye breaks in front of Thomas and once the ball has been thrown, closes in and shows great aggressiveness to break up the play.
Lining up in the slot against Kendall Wright, Bouye simply attached himself to the back of the route over the middle as opposed to trying to get overly physical upon contact. Refusing the push-off attempt from Wright, Bouye stuck on like glue and left no window for Marcus Mariota.
With that in mind, viewing his zone coverage play becomes a lot more interesting. Just because he’s a cornerback who opts to win later in routes, it doesn’t mean he isn’t imposingly instinctive and aggressive. The Bears decided to target Jeremy Langford out of the backfield, expecting a cushion to emerge..which it did. Bouye’s positioning means that he can sit further back while still covering the flat. Once Langford makes his break, Bouye charges back down to make the tackle and cuts the play short. What’s impressive here is his tackling. 48 of his 63 tackles this year were solo, which may not sound like an impressive stat but given how erratic the tackling of Ron Brooks and Nolan Carroll can be when it comes to stopping more elusive players, consistency in wrapping up players can’t be overlooked.
Stopping short passes dead in their tracks is becoming a trademark of the former UCF star. The Eagles began to surrender a lot of short passes as a response to shutting down their pass rush and exploiting corners who can’t jam. We’ll touch more on that later, but take this for an example. Stafford seeks out his receiver on an out route and Bouye’s closing speed here is phenomenal. He cuts any chance of YAC drastically short, ends the play on the spot and sets a stern tone.
Bouye drops into a zonal look here against Cody Core and shows the same instincts as he did in the breakup shown against the Broncos. Letting his receiver make the initial break, Bouye simply drives over the top of the route in a press technique once the direction is unveiled and forces the incomplete pass. It’s that ability to hit the next gear during a route that many take for granted..but if you look at what see in the slot, it speaks for itself.
That wasn’t to be the only time that the Bengals looked to utilize Core and exploit a potential mismatch..and it wasn’t the only time it failed. Bouye mirrors his earlier play here but with no help around him at all, comes up big and stays ahead of the receiver at all times..forcing the incompletion.
Just because Bouye doesn’t win his routes early, it doesn’t mean that he isn’t a force to be reckoned with in press coverage situations. Lining up on the outside here, Bouye keeps his hands low and uses his body to shadow his receiver as accurately as humanly possible. By the time that the comeback was completed, Bouye had already stopped the play on the spot through light footwork and ensuring that his back is never to the ball.
He was later left on an island with Marvin Jones, but it was of no concern for the Texans Defense. Bouye came up with a huge play here, cutting underneath the receiver once he had turned his back to make the reception after shadowing him stride-for-stride down the sideline. Even though he doesn’t make a lot of contact at the line, it’s quite clear that he doesn’t really need to do so.
Bouye’s style also means that he succeeds in one particular area that the Eagles continue to fall infuriatingly short, slants. It’s all too easy for receivers to create separation at the line and cut inside, making a big catch and forcing the likes of Bradham and Hicks to leave their assignment and endure mop up duty. As seen below, because Bouye allows his receiver to break before adjusting with light footwork, he’s able to always stay ahead of the wideout before making contact and making the first move. This means that the receiver doesn’t have a momentum advantage as the driving force is created by Bouye. The incompletion was all too easy here for Bouye..and the Eagles should be doing more than taking a few notes.
What about the big guys?
At 6’0, Bouye isn’t the most intimidating corner just going by his frame alone. The Eagles also happen to play in a division with Jordan Reed, Jason Witten and an arsenal of big-body targets with names that are just as big. When the Texans played the Chiefs in 2015, Travis Kelce had 106 yards and 2 touchdowns. In 2015, with Bouye following his every move, he had just one less catch (five) for 34 yards.
The reason? Plays such as this. Kelce runs a drag route, but it isn’t enough to outwit Bouye, who has his eyes set on the star tight end from the moment he leaves the line of scrimmage. Bouye snaps down onto Kelce once he begins to pick up speed and closes a huge window of opportunity with acres of space lying ahead of him.
The most impressive play from Bouye in this game, came in a crucial situation. One-on-one with Kelce, the Chiefs run a corner-route, looking to exploit the size of Kelce against the Texans cornerback. Bouye, again doesn’t make any contact until after Kelce breaks in the route. At the top of the route however, Bouye uses his aggressiveness to force the incompletion and stand tall over Travis Kelce.
It wouldn’t be a Jim Schwartz cornerback candidate without it..after all, that’s why Eric Rowe was traded..right? Sarcasm aside, Bouye is the whole package. While he plays a very tactical game, he’s ruthless when he needs to be. The Eagles are leaning towards hard hitting corners and Bouye is no exception. We’ve already seen how he’s able to blow up short routes and plays out of the backfield, but Demaryius Thomas saw it first hand. The speed in which Bouye closes is scary, but the hit is nothing short of something you’d see in Madden.
Rookie star Tajae Sharpe suffered the same treatment. A quick adjustment from Bouye saw him close on Sharpe so rapidly that by the time the Titans receiver had possession, Bouye was already lining up the hit. It’s this kind of explosiveness that isn’t seen often at all from cornerbacks in Philadelphia given how much emphasis was placed on it during the offseason, but knowing Bouye has that extra gear is a reassuring plus.
Bouye has expressed a desire to return to the Texans and the team a desire to keep him..but money talks. Bouye rejected a multi-year deal back in March, as aforementioned and after the kind of season he’s had, his value will have sky rocketed. He fits the Eagles “26-28” year old free agency mold but the Birds don’t exactly have an impressive FA cornerback history..especially when big money is involved.
If the opportunity and funds are available, then justifying the move is not hard at all as his play speaks for itself. But if Bouye is insistent on earning a six figure salary, then it may pay to pass on one of the NFL’s rising cornerback stars.
Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports