The New Orleans Saints are in the market for a cornerback. And A.J. Bouye is at the top of the CB free agent pecking order.
The New Orleans Saints would be much improved if they could add a player of his caliber. The question here is price.
A.J. Bouye, an undrafted signee with the Texans in 2013, spent the first three years of his career on the bench. He had a strong 2014 campaign but never became a full-time starter until 2016. But 2016 saw him emerge as a true CB1.
Bouye can do it all. So much jumps out with his tape, but nothing so much as his quickness and fluidity. He diagnoses routes very well and has excellent straight-line speed to stick with deep balls. But his hips are elite and his recovery time when he gets beat—it happens to everyone—is phenomenal. He’s most comfortable in man coverage, but has solid technique in zone and is willing and effective in run support.
I’m still trying to figure out whether Dennis Allen prefers man or zone defenders. It depends greatly on the situation and roster composition. If anything, he likes versatile players that can hold their own in both schemes.
Bouye is, by all means, a versatile player. But his strength is clearly in man coverage. That’s not a knock on his zone. He simply excels in man.
PFF had Bouye ranked as the best CB when defending the slant in 2016.
More from Who Dat Dish
- 3 teams that Jameis Winston can torch with his arm in 2022
- Bradley Roby sees Super Bowl comparisons in New Orleans Saints
- Saints Training Camp: 5 players who had us talking after Day 9
- NOLA Saints should have passed on LB Kiko Alonso
- Saints HC Dennis Allen compares Taysom Hill’s role to the Joker
On the one hand, their evaluation is a bit perplexing. They attribute three interceptions on the year to Bouye defending slant routes. He only had one INT during the regular season, and that was against a post route. Yes, post-routes are a sort of extended slant, but the difference is clear enough. He had two INTs in the postseason, but only one of these was against a slant. The other, on the last play of their game against Oakland, was on an out-route. It was a bad throw. The slant INT came against New England, but Bouye was beaten on the play. Brady threw a bad pass and Bouye caught the deflection.
On the other hand, while the INT numbers are suspect, Bouye did an undeniably outstanding job in coverage against slants. Outside of a single play against the Bengals where he was taken down by a teamate, Bouye gave up only 44 yards on the season against slant routes. He was targetted 15 times. Those are exceptional numbers against possibly the hardest route to defend.
PFF also gave Bouye an honorable mention as a defender against In and Out routes.
Where Bouye was at his strongest, in my mind, in pass coverage was against the deep ball.
Check out this play against Denver.
This is about as textbook as it gets. Look at how well Bouye covers ground while he keeps his hips open, and his head turned to the ball. He doesn’t need to turn and find the ball in the air at the last minute because he’s never looked elsewhere. Yet he stays stride for stride with Sanders down the sideline. This sort of coverage was sorely missed in New Orleans these last few years.
Bouye manages to completely smother the deep route. But at the same time, he keeps his body turned enough to be open to a comeback or hitch route down the field. Until it becomes clear that Sanders is just breaking for the go route, at which point he fully commits and shows excellent technique to break up the pass.
That’s the sort of coverage that can allow a defense to leave a CB on an island. That’s how you get safeties swarming to the ball. And that’s how you can afford to bring QB pressure along the edges. That sort of defense would be huge for New Orleans. If Delvin Breaux can return to his 2015 form, that would mean two lockdown CBs freeing up the defense to roam and rob.
The Texans rarely played zone coverage. With their pass-rush, there was little risk for the man coverage to be left out to dry. There’s not much tape on Bouye’s abilities in zone. But he has sound tendencies from what I’ve seen. He’s able to keep his eyes on the quarterback, and can play multiple spots in the zone.
When they did drop into zone, it was typically a Cover-3. And Bouye was almost never tested in that scheme. He looks to have solid enough technique. Here he is against the Bengals, at the bottom of the screen, dropping back into a Cover-3 safety zone.
Notice how he stays in position to defend the outside receiver coming down the field. He has his hips turned just enough to be able to break downfield if that man runs a go-route. But he also has the position to break inside with the receiver. He shows good awareness of the play, even with two players running straight through his zone as the play begins.
The Saints play plenty of Cover-3. They don’t have the pass-rush to rely on man schemes, as sooner or later their CBs would lose coverage. I’d say with a cover player like Bouye that’s less of a concern, as he is able to stick tight in coverage even late into the play clock.
Bouye put together a very impressive season as a run defender. He’s not always the most engaged—if a play runs opposite him, he may walk it off. But when he does engage, he’s very effective. He does a good job of staying free from blockers, and has sound gap discipline.
Here’s Bouye against Denver. The run goes Bouye’s way, and Denver’s RT pulls out to lay the block on Bouye on the outside.
Bouye does an outstanding job of staying disengaged. He uses his hands on the bigger blocker, and turns his shoulders so that he can stay open to the playside. Denver’s RT might have done better to run through the much smaller Bouye, but Bouye keeps him on his toes with a hesistation as the blocker approaches. This keeps him free and able to make a play when the runner comes by.
This play, while not an eye-popper, is indicative of Bouye’s general presence against the run. He’s able to stay sound in his role and to remain available for the tackle.
PFF has him credited with only two missed tackles, making him, in their words, “one of the surest tacklers at the position.” He isn’t the most physical presence on the field, but he gets the job done through awareness and craftiness.
With regards the Saints, Bouye does have a few weakness. He’s listed at 6’0″, but he doesn’t play with much size. Bouye is a small 6’0″ when compared with, say, P.J. Williams, who also lists at 6’0″. In a division with Kelvin Benjamin, Julio Jones, and Mike Evans, size is important.
In a similar vein, Bouye is more of a finesse corner than a physical press corner. The Saints have shown a proclivity for more physical players on the outside.
But to both of those points, you could argue that the Saints’ commitment to finding long, physical CBs can help mitigate that weakness in Bouye. With P.J. Williams and Delvin Breaux, the Saints could easily find matchups for Bouye where he’d be able to let his fluidity control the battle.
The other concern with Bouye is the lack of turnovers. Yes, he managed three interceptions on the year. That’s pretty good. But only one of those came in the regular season. And none of the three interceptions at the hands of Bouye’s own abilities. All three were poorly thrown balls that any CB should have picked off.
Personally, I think that’s a bit of an overblown criticism, and one that might work in favor of the Saints cap-space. More often than not, Bouye was in a position to make an interception but failed to come down with it. I care more about that than anything else. The picks will come. And Bouye is sure to command some big money in free agency. If this lack of turnovers does anything to drop his price tag, I’m all for it.
It’s hard for me to gauge how much Bouye will earn in free agency. TexansCap.com broke down how much they expect Bouye to make. They estimate upwards of $11.5 million a year.
If that’s the right estimate, I’d strongly consider pulling the tigger if I were the Saints. Bouye has the chance to be a true lockdown corner. With Jairus Byrd now a free agent, the Saints both need help in the backfield and have more money to get it. I’d be shocked if they didn’t look for some expensive talent in the secondary. That may mean safety, of course. And that may mean any one of a few top CB prospects.
But with the DE market dwindling, the Saints have $35+ million to spend on some combination of G, LB, DB, and DL. If they can work to frontload contracts, they could bring in top talent at each of those positions. And if they do decide to spend big on a CB, Bouye could well be the guy.
I wasn’t as much of a fan before I sat down with the tape. I thought he’d be too pricey. But if they can get him at $11-odd million, I’d be a happy Saints fan.