Signing one of the best free agents on the market is great. Signing one of the best free agents on the market away from a division rival? Now that is a beautiful thing.
A.J. Bouye could follow in the footsteps of his former teammate Ben Jones in making the move from Houston to Nashville this spring. Bouye is a former undrafted free agent corner out of UCF who burst on to the scene this year after a season ending injury to Kevin Johnson and minor injuries to Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph forced Bouye in to a starting role midseason. All he did with that opportunity was turn in one of the best seasons of any corner in the NFL this year, and in the process, make himself a boatload of money.
I have already broken it down in depth here if you want to check out some of the statistical back up for what your eyes already told you: the Titans corners were bad last year. So let’s get to know a little more about A.J. Bouye and how he could help turn our corner group around in 2017.
- Age: 25 (will turn 26 on 8/16/2017)
- Height: 6’-0”
- Weight: 191 lbs
- College: UCF
- Experience: 4 years
Stephon Gilmore Career Stats.csv
After going undrafted out of UCF, Bouye signed as a UDFA with the Texans (he is originally from Dallas, TX). He made the team out of camp and was even on the active roster for the first 6 games of the year in 2013, but was limited to mostly special teams and a few rotational reps on defense.
In 2014, Bouye became a regular contributor in nickel situations (he would play outside corner and Kareem Jackson would bump inside to cover the slot) and put together an excellent season there. He broke up 10 passes, picked off 3, and allowed a passer rating against of just 75.3.
Despite his excellent sophomore season, the 2015 Draft saw the Texans take Kevin Johnson in the 1st round which bumped Bouye back down the depth chart. He only saw 211 snaps on defense.
The 2016 season started with Bouye stuck behind Joseph, Jackson, and Johnson on the depth chart again, but after a strong training camp and preseason the Texans wanted to find a way to get him on the field more. They started the season with a plan to use Bouye as their TE coverage specialist, but as the season progressed injuries to their top three corners pushed him in to more of a starring role.
Here is what NFL.com had to say about Bouye going in to the 2013 NFL Draft:
At Central Florida's pro day, Bouye ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds and showed off a 36 1/2-inch vertical jump. He also went 4.04 in the short shuttle run and 7.06 in the cone drill.
That’s it. That’s how under the radar Bouye was in 2013. He didn’t even get a “strengths/weaknesses” breakdown on NFL.com. Corners without great production who run 4.55 40’s typically don’t draw a lot of interest from NFL scouts, but in this case those scouts were missing out.
How Bouye Fits the Titans
Bouye doesn’t have a ton of reps on tape, but what he does have is quite impressive. Even going back to his 2014 games he looks like a good NFL corner. He is a true outside corner who has a lot of experience in coverage schemes that are very similar to what the Titans run under Dick LeBeau. This is one advantage that he has over a guy like Trumaine Johnson who mainly played in a Cover 3 or Cover 2 zone system. The Texans play some zone, but they love to put their corners in press man on the outside similar to the Titans.
Bouye doesn’t have great speed, but he is extremely physical and shows excellent technique and instincts. His ball skills are not as prodigious as Tru’s, but he still creates a lot of turnovers thanks to his length allowing him to get his hands on the ball frequently. Let’s take a look at some plays that show some of Bouye’s skills as a corner.
OK, this first one is going to hurt, but it really gives a good example of what Bouye does well. You will probably remember the play, and yes, this probably could have been a DPI call. I am showing this play for two reasons. For one, it is an example of something Bouye does a lot: create easy interceptions for his safeties. His interception totals are very modest, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t create turnovers. The second reason I am using it is that DPI is probably the single biggest drawback for Bouye outside of his relative lack of experience. His 6 DPI calls in 2016 were second most in the NFL and he also picked up 2 defensive holding calls and 2 illegal use of hands penalties. So here is the play from the Titans-Texans game in Week 17. Bouye jumps the slant, reaches his arm behind Sharpe, and deflects the pass setting up an easy pick for Quintin Demps.
Here is another example where Bouye makes a very similar play and Demps collects the easy INT. Demps should probably take A.J. out for a nice steak dinner sometime soon.
I mentioned above that the Texans plans coming in to the season were to use Bouye to matchup with elite receiving tight ends. Here is an example of him making a great play against Travis Kelce. He played great against Kelce in that game holding him to 5 catches for just 34 yards. Watch Bouye use great technique and his length to reach around and poke the ball away on the slant.
This next clip is one of my favorites because it gives you a great view of the matchup between Bouye and Michael Crabtree from the wildcard round playoff game. Watch Bouye match Crabtree step for step the whole route.
Here is an example of Bouye playing press man against Tyrell Williams on a 3rd down play. Williams runs a long scrape route across the field hoping to get a pick on Bouye as he crosses the field, but Bouye is able to weave through the traffic and then close and wrap up Williams for a short gain.
Bouye’s tackling appears to be very good from what I’ve seen from him. Here is an example of a good open field tackle on Melvin Gordon. Not only does he make a great tackle here, but his read on the play was excellent as well as he keeps his eyes on the quarterback and peels off his man quickly to come up and make the stop on a 3rd down.
One more example of Bouye coming up and making a tackle. This play looked out of sorts from the beginning for Denver, but I included this so you can see that A.J. isn’t afraid to bring a little thump when he tackles.
The Texans have repeatedly stated that they would like to keep Bouye, but their cap situation leaves them in a tough spot. Spotrac is currently projecting a 5 year, $57M deal for Bouye in the open market which would add roughly $11.4M per year to Houston’s cap number. With just over $25M of cap space for 2017 currently and several other positions that need to be addressed (including possibly a long term extension for DeAndre Hopkins), signing Bouye to a $11.4M/year deal would leave them with very little money to improve the roster elsewhere. They could decide to release Johnathan Joseph to clear an extra $7M worth of space to make room for Bouye, but things would still be tight. It does not appear that the Texans will opt to use the franchise tag to keep him in town so there is a really good chance that he gets to the open market on March 9th.
Bouye is a great scheme fit for the Titans and ended 2016 rated as the 3rd best corner in the NFL according to PFF. The big question marks for him is whether he is a one year wonder, and exactly how much he benefited from being surrounded by a great defense, and particularly, a great pass rush in Houston. The other drawback for him could be that he tends to get a little grabby downfield resulting in a high number of DPI calls, however, I would always prefer my corners to be a little too physical than not physical enough.
An added benefit to signing Bouye for the Titans is that he would likely be outstanding working against DeAndre Hopkins since he has been honing his craft against him for the past 4 years nearly every day.
“Each year, he’s gotten better,” Crennel said. “It started probably last year in practice when he was going against ‘Hop’ (Hopkins) every day. He would just match up with ‘Hop’ and basically he was taking show team reps. He and ‘Hop’ would compete on every route. I think he got better as a result of it. Now, that’s also carrying over to the football field on game day. He’s competing and he’s covering guys and doing a really good job.”
Bouye’s play also drew some great compliments from Tom Brady:
Bouye “had an incredible year,” Patriots QB Tom Brady said. “What a great young player and great future that he has. I mean he’s just shut a lot of people out over the course of the season. He seems like he’s a feisty young player. He’s certainly not afraid to get in there and play in the run game, but really his coverage skills are very impressive for someone of his size. He’s got all of the makings of what it takes to be a great corner in this league.”
I don’t think Bouye is a one year wonder. In fact, I think he profiles as a guy who will continue to improve over his next contract. A 5 year deal will only take him through his age 31 season so it will cover his entire prime. Additionally, the Titans would be weakening a division rival while getting better. I think this would be an excellent signing. He already looks good with a Titans logo in his hands.
Previously covered Free Agents in this series:
Bubble Boys (players on the roster bubble)