ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Just because the Denver Broncos traded for A.J. Bouye this week, don't expect them to stop looking at cornerbacks available in this year's NFL draft.
They still have job openings.
The deal for Bouye -- sending a fourth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for the eighth-year veteran who has been named to one Pro Bowl in his career -- won't be official until the new league year begins March 18. But he's just the start of the Broncos' efforts at the position.
Many personnel executives say Bouye has not nearly played to the level of his Pro Bowl season, with one interception in 2018 and one in 2019 after six in 2017. But Broncos coach Vic Fangio tried to acquire Bouye before when he was defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears.
Bouye has two years left on the five-year, $67.5 million deal he signed in Jacksonville and will have base salaries of $14 million both this season and in 2021, or likely less than the top cornerbacks in the free-agent market are expected to get.
When asked at last week's NFL scouting combine about the Broncos' depth chart at cornerback, especially if it does not include Chris Harris Jr., Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway said:
"I think we have to get better there. That's one area we're looking to get better. I think we got better as time went on. We had some young guys. We had some injuries there. Bryce [Callahan] didn't play last year. We had relied on him. Chris [Harris] had to stay outside a lot more because Kareem [Jackson] played safety. That's an area that we're looking to hopefully get better this offseason."
The Broncos are thin at corner, particularly if Harris gets a better offer elsewhere as expected. Bouye and Callahan, who underwent foot surgery in November and didn’t play a snap in 2019, are the top two cornerbacks. De'Vante Bausby, who played in five games last season and started two, is coming back from a neck injury that sent him to injured reserve in October.
The Broncos will certainly look in free agency, but with the top available cornerbacks -- Dallas' Byron Jones, Tennessee's Logan Ryan and Chicago's Prince Amukamara -- expected to get top-end money, they will have to dive into the draft as well.
After the Bouye deal, the Broncos are expected to have 11 picks in the draft once their compensatory picks are awarded. Given that few players -- outside of quarterbacks -- shoot up the draft board like a big cornerback, the Broncos might have to move a bit to get the players they want at the position.
The draft's best cornerback -- Ohio State's Jeff Okudah -- is not an option for the Broncos with the 15th pick. Okudah will likely be selected among the top five picks, potentially among the top three.
But unless something highly unexpected happens, the Broncos would have the chance to consider Florida's CJ Henderson, Alabama's Trevon Diggs or LSU's Kristian Fulton from the middle of the first round perhaps into the second.
Henderson didn't play nearly as well this past season as he did as a sophomore in 2018 -- when he didn't allow a touchdown pass -- but he is smooth in coverage with 4.39-second speed in the 40-yard dash. While some coaches say Henderson doesn't play physically enough for their liking, others will decide those coverage skills set him apart.
Fulton's 4.46 40 at the combine was better than some expected. He played plenty of press-man coverage in LSU's defense and that alone, beyond his top-shelf work against a conference filled with talent at wide receiver, separates him from most college cornerbacks.
"We worked on it every day in practice, our press coverages," Fulton said. "And that's what we're in 90% of the plays that are for a game. So I'm very comfortable in it."
Diggs, too, has been tested in the SEC and has shown the ability to challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Henderson, Fulton and Diggs all measured in at 5-foot-11⅝ or taller in Indianapolis last week, so they will each get the big cornerback treatment during the draft.
The second day of the draft will see a group of cornerbacks that should include Utah's Jaylon Johnson (4.50 at the combine at 193 pounds), TCU's Jeff Gladney (4.48 at the combine) and Clemson's A.J. Terrell (4.42 at 6-1⅛, 195 pounds).
Teams liked what they saw and heard from Terrell at the combine, and more than one coach said he had first-round talent. His more-than-difficult day against LSU in the national championship game has gotten some attention, though.
"For me, it was just me being able to understand what happened and that the game wasn't over [after a tough first half] and having short-term memory at the position of cornerback was key," Terrell said. "You can't put your head down for too long, you just have to play the next play."
On Day 3, someone like Mississippi State's Cameron Dantzler (6-2¼, 188 pounds), who ran a 4.64 at the combine, could be available. He fared far better against LSU than most of his peers this past season.
Virginia's Bryce Hall (6-1¼, 202), who didn't run at the combine, Auburn's Noah Igbinoghene (4.48 at 198 pounds) and Notre Dame's Troy Pride Jr. (4.40 at 193 pounds) are considered by many in the league to be players who could contribute plenty as rookies in a defense that suits them. And whenever anyone raises eyebrows in Indy like Utah's Javelin Guidry did with a 4.29 40-yard dash at 191 pounds, expect teams to take another look at him in the weeks ahead.
Georgia Southern's Kindle Vildor (4.44 at 191 pounds) faced both Minnesota and LSU this past season, and he has climbed some on the draft boards, especially for teams that play plenty of man coverages. But concerns over his tackling might move him down the board for some.