ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Broncos' pass defense was at its strongest, quarterbacks didn't have much of a chance.
In both 2015 and 2016 — the height of the "No-Fly Zone" — the Broncos pieced together the top-ranked passing defense in consecutive years.
But the dominance was about more than denying yards to opposing teams. In 2015, the Broncos recorded 14 interceptions. A year later, they snagged 14 more.
During those two seasons, the Broncos' secondary also combined to return six of those interceptions for touchdowns. Cornerback Bradley Roby also added a fumble return for a touchdown.
That production has been hard to replicate. In the three seasons since, members of the secondary have posted just three pick-sixes since the start of the 2017 season.
The Broncos did not return an interception for a touchdown in 2019 and tallied just 10 total picks.
That's where A.J. Bouye comes in.
As the Broncos aim to be more ball productive in 2020, the team's newest cornerback should be able to help. The Broncos dealt the 137th-overall pick to the Jaguars in exchange for Bouye.
"We're excited to be able to announce a trade with Jacksonville for A.J. Bouye," President of Football Operations/GM John Elway said Wednesday. "He's a great fit in Vic's system with his instincts, ball skills, toughness and ability to play in a defense that mixes coverages. In addition to having the size on the outside to match up against larger receivers, A.J. is an excellent tackler. He's a complete cornerback who gives us what we need in both pass coverage and against the run."
The 2017 Pro Bowler has recorded at least one interception in each of his last six seasons, and he's recorded multiple interceptions in a season on three occasions.
Compare that to last season's Broncos production: Chris Harris Jr. was the only cornerback to record an interception, and he snagged his only one of the season in a game against Tennessee.
In 2017, Bouye grabbed six interceptions en route to a Pro Bowl nod and second-team All-Pro honors. No cornerback on the Broncos' roster in 2019 has ever recorded more than three picks in a year.
The eighth-year pro doesn't have elite speed — he ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash before entering the league — but he seems to often be in the right position to make plays. He made some tremendous catches to haul in interceptions, and he appears instinctive during interception returns.
"I think he's a technician," safety Tyrann Mathieu said of Bouye in the NFL’s 2018 Top 100 series. "I think he's fundamentally sound."
Added wide receiver Jarvis Landry: "He knows when to jam a guy. He knows when to shadow a guy. He knows when to play off."
During that breakout 2017 season, Bouye allowed just a 41.7 passer rating, which was best in the NFL among cornerbacks with at least 50 targets.
And while Bouye has recorded just two interceptions over the past two seasons, there's reason to believe he can bounce back in Vic Fangio's turnover-friendly zone defense.
"We all watch football," Bouye told DenverBroncos.com. "We all watch prime-time games. Just watching the scheme, we had a lot of opponents [in Jacksonville] last year that were the same here in Denver, so I could study the scheme a lot. It was one scheme I was definitely looking forward to playing in."
Bouye is expected to join cornerback Bryce Callahan and safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson as the starting four in the Broncos' defensive backfield.
Bouye previously played with Jackson for four years in Houston, and he said the experience should help when they return to the field.
"He was somebody that I looked up to as soon as I got there," Bouye said. "I'm a firm believer in chemistry. You're only as good as the chemistry you have as a team, so I'm definitely excited to develop that with all the guys."
As Bouye develops that chemistry, he'll bring more than just a knack for the ball to the Broncos' defense. Fangio prioritizes sure tacklers at cornerback, and Bouye should bring that ability to Denver.
He is also both reliable and versatile. Bouye has missed just five games over the previous three seasons, and he played on both sides of the formation during his time in Jacksonville.
And while quarterbacks had a 101.5 passer rating while targeting Bouye in 2019, he has the talent to bounce back. With top-tier safety play behind him and a front seven that will include Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and reportedly Jurrell Casey, Bouye should have the help he needs to return to form.
"We've got a lot of weapons on defense, got a great rush," Bouye told DenverBroncos.com. "[We've] got some good linebackers [and] got some guys in the back-end that can make plays."
If Bouye can return to making the plays he did in 2017, the Broncos' trade will have been well worth it.