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Jaguars’ cornerback A.J. Bouye thriving in expanded role

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Now the team’s number one cornerback, A.J. Bouye has taken full advantage of his opportunity

NFL: International Series-Jacksonville Jaguars Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When the Jaguars lost their former fifth-overall pick in cornerback Jalen Ramsey, many questioned where the franchise would get equal — or similar— production elsewhere. While it is nearly impossible to replicate the production that Ramsey provided to the team’s pass defense, Jaguars’ cornerback A.J. Bouye has fully embraced his role, and is thriving in a way that has made many observers forget about the former first-team All Pro cornerback.

In 2017, Bouye was best cornerbacks in the NFL. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Bouye was the number one cornerback in the NFL in terms of passer rating allowed (31.6). Now, the former undrafted free agent is beginning to show why he was once one of the most coveted free agents in the NFL at one point. The statistics do not exactly match up, however — against number one receivers —, the production is.

Last week, Bouye was tasked with handling the best receiver in the game in Houston Texans’ receiver DeAndre Hopkins. While he allowed seven receptions against, Nuk accounted for only 48 yards on the day. For reference, Hopkins has averaged 69 yards against the Jaguars since 2016 — Ramsey’s rookie season.

Bouye exceeded expectations last week, and has played well, overall, this season. “It was a battle out there [with Hopkins] and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Bouye told reporters after the game last Sunday.

While he is not having an elite year, Bouye is still ranked 27th (out of 75) in the NFL in pass rating allowed (84.4), according to Pro Football Focus. For reference, D.J. Hayden — one of the team’s best defenders this season — has allowed a pass rating of 83.2 which ranks 26th in the NFL.

While he was not following him the entire game, Bouye played his best game of the season against a New Orleans Saints team which featured All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas had a fine day — eight receptions for 89 yards —, however Bouye allowed only two receptions for 12 yards in the contest.

Jaguars’ defensive coordinator Todd Wash expressed the confidence the team has in their new number one cornerback. “We’re starting to maybe do some things with him where we travel him to certain guys,” Wash told members of the media earlier this season during his weekly Thursday press conference. “You’ve seen that the last couple games where he travels. He’s still, and has been, a good corner for a long time, and we still feel very highly about his coverage skills, his ability to tackle and make plays in our system.”

Over the past three games, Bouye has accumulated three pass deflections, 15 solo tackles, and an interception. Allowing only one touchdown thus far this season, Bouye should be counted on moving forward.

Against the New York Jets, Bouye had his best play of the season thus far. Anticipating a route combination he and Jaguars’ safety Jarrod Wilson noticed earlier, the cerebral cornerback practically ran the route for Jets’ quarterback Sam Darnold and was in perfect position to make the play.

“They ran like a scissors concept and me and [Jarrod Wilson] went after the seven cut, and I told him ‘Yo, next time we see it, we’re not going to get it,’” Bouye said shortly after the Jaguars’ week eight victory over the Jets. “So, that same play, they decided to push 17 [WR Vyncint Smith] out there – I knew him at Houston, he’s a speed guy – so, Dub tried the scissors and I told him ‘No, stay on it’ and as soon as I saw the ball in the air, I knew it was mine.”

The Jaguars will need Bouye to continue excelling in their defense moving forward, especially with receivers such as T.Y. Hilton, Chris Godwin, Keenan Allen, and Julio Jones still left on the schedule. For now, the former second-team All Pro cornerback is playing some of his best football when the team needs him most.