Cardinals cornerback Elie Bouka catches the ball during a recent OTA.
Perhaps Elie Bouka would have been drafted, even coming from the University of Calgary, had his left Achilles not snapped.
The cornerback with all the eye-popping physical gifts wasn't taken. But that didn't mean the Cardinals didn't want him, and it showed when Bouka was talking with potential teams with which to sign following April's draft.
"This is the team, when I came on a visit, they had a plan," Bouka said after a recent rookie workout. "They had a plan for me. They embraced me and my injury, which is rare to see."
The Cardinals went into the draft seeking cornerbacks. They drafted two – Brandon Williams in the third round and Harlan Miller in the sixth. But afterward, they also looked north of the border, to the 6-foot-1, 4.41-40-yard-dash-running Bouka.
Arizona's director of college scouting, Dru Grigson, came to the team from the Canadian Football League. And scout Glenn Fox watches the Canadian pros in the CFL. Canada is there to be mined for talent.
"We thought to ourselves, 'We can cast a wider net,' " General Manager Steve Keim said. "We could look in Canada because there are some players there."
The Cards signed CFL linebacker Tristan Okpalaugo. As for Bouka, the injury was a concern, but not a deterrent, not with the "huge upside" Bouka carries, Keim said.
Bouka didn't get to much but individual work late in the offseason because of his Achilles, but said he should have no restrictions when training camp begins. It's all part of the "journey I am embracing," Bouka said, putting aside the idea he lost a chance to be drafted.
Hailing from Quebec – French is his first language – Bouka started playing football at age 6, loving the contact of the sport. Weighing just 117 pounds as a high school freshman, Bouka joked that his high school coach would never have believed he'd have a chance at the NFL.
But Bouka wanted it. He had planned to play college in the United States. A chance to play at Utah State fell through, but he did accept a scholarship to play at Weber State. When the coach retired, Bouka changed his mind and went to the University of Calgary, eventually converting to cornerback after playing receiver.
He posted impressive numbers at an all-star game combine before his final college year, demonstrating speed and leaping ability that caught the Cardinals' attention.
There has been a learning curve coming from a Canadian game with little use from tight ends and the ability for receivers to be running at the defense before the snap of the ball. One of Bouka's challenges actually has been to slow his backpedal.
"At the end of the day, corner is pretty straightforward," Bouka said. "It's a man-to-man battle."
In a year where the Vikings drafted a receiver (Moritz Boehringer) out of Europe, finding a cornerback in Calgary wasn't a stretch.
"If they can find talent in Germany," Bouka said, "they can find talent in Canada."
Images of the Cardinals players, cheerleaders and Big Red at community events