With the trade acquisition of former Jaguar A.J. Bouye, the Broncos appear to have a new starting cornerback. To learn more about Bouye, we asked Mark Long, who covers the Jaguars for the Associated Press, for his take on the new Bronco.
Ben Swanson: What kind of play should people in Denver expect from A.J. Bouye?
Mark Long: "A.J. Bouye is a fantastic player — still really good, still really young. [He's] not even 30 years old; I think he's 28 right now, and I think he'll be 29 by the beginning of the season, but I wouldn't be surprised if his better football is ahead of him. He was fantastic in 2017, not a huge drop-off in 2018. The interceptions weren't there, but he still played at a pretty high level. He definitely did take a step back last year in 2019, but a lot of that was the defense had changed so much. They had a whole new linebacker corps for the most part, Jalen Ramsey gets traded early in the season, two new safeties on the back end. So really the whole secondary and most of the defense was in flux and A.J. Bouye was one of the lone carry-overs, but there were issues on the back end and not necessarily all of them his fault. But I think it made him a little bit tougher to play the way he's capable of playing last season. He still was able to start 14 games and have 65 tackles, which was indeed a career high, so there is that. He broke up eight passes, but he just didn't have the picks and those kind of things. But he still played at a pretty good level."
BS: That 2017 defense was indeed something special. Why do you feel he was so successful?
ML: "Yeah, it was a special defense, but what I'll say about him is he's really, really smart, a very good communicator, and that's what makes for a good cornerback — a guy who pays attention, knows the defense really well and is paying attention to what's going on back there. A lot of guys get kind of lost in finger-pointing; that's not A.J. Bouye. And I go back and look at that 2017 season; he got beat for [two] touchdowns against Antonio Brown in the playoff game against Pittsburgh, but that's the one I would tell Broncos fans, 'Go back and look — and it's not that he got beat for touchdowns.' Go back and look at the touchdowns. Antonio Brown just made ridiculous one-handed catches, diving catches on A.J. Bouye, but A.J. Bouye was right there the entire time. It was like Antonio Brown was wearing an A.J. Bouye suit for some of those catches, but still managed to come down with the ball. ... It looks like A.J. Bouye got beat a few times, but if you watch the tape on that game, you'll see that A.J. Bouye was there step for step running with the best receiver in the league, or one of the best receivers in the league at that time."
BS: Coming to Denver to work in Head Coach Vic Fangio's defense, would you say we should expect his production to look more like what he was able to do in 2017?
ML: "I do. I don't know about six picks — it's such a high number when you look at the rest of his career. ... That may not be realistic where he's going to have six picks for 70 yards and 18 pass[es] defense[d], but I would say somewhere between the last two years where he had eight pass breakups and 18 pass breakups in 2017, somewhere in the middle. I would expect him to be in double-digits. The thing about it is, he is — I think, if I'm reading it right — I think he's going to be the number one cornerback and probably the guy who shadows and follows and cover some pretty good [receivers] in that division. That may be a little bit of a challenge for anybody. I don't know if anybody can line up with those guys, when you're talking about Keenan Allen and the Chiefs' speedsters and expect to put up ridiculous numbers. But I do think he's going to give them a chance week in and week out to be pretty good in the back end."
BS: He may not have another Jalen Ramsey here either when he comes in, so it seems like he'll be expected to step into the top cornerback role in Denver. How much do you think he can succeed in that role?
ML: "He's an absolute consummate pro, a guy they really paid to come in. I think they had a good feeling about Jalen Ramsey, but they didn't know Jalen Ramsey was really going to take that step that he did. So A.J. Bouye came to Jacksonville thinking he might be the number one cornerback, but he was really in the shadow, played in the shadow of Jalen Ramsey for a number of years. I think getting away from Jalen, I think, could help him flourish a little bit. ... I don't think that there's any question that he will be a number one cornerback and be a really good one. He was their number one cornerback last year — yes, it was a step back from his previous performances, but it wasn't awful when you look at 65 total tackles and eight pass breakups in 14 games. ... He's going to draw some tough assignments — win some, lose some — but I think he's going to hold his own more often than not and be the number one guy out there for sure."