When the New England Patriots acquired defensive back Eric Rowe from the Philadelphia Eagles, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Rowe was a four-year starter at the University of Utah, spending his first three seasons at free safety before moving to cornerback in his final year. The Eagles selected Rowe in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft and kept him at cornerback.
Over the past few drafts, I’ve mocked the hybrid cornerback-safety players to the Patriots because it would allow Devin McCourty, who is cut from the same cloth, to move back to full time free safety in the base nickel defense. So when the Patriots acquired Rowe, I envisioned him in the heart of the Patriots defense, with McCourty back playing deep safety.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had different plans in mind.
“When we worked [Rowe out for the draft] we saw him as a corner, which I would say when you just look at him he looks kind of like a corner,” Belichick said on Wednesday. “I’m not saying he can’t play safety but he looks kind of like a corner and Philadelphia played him at corner. I don’t think they played him at safety at all. He played corner against us last year with Philadelphia.”
In fact Rowe didn’t just play cornerback for the Eagles when they faced the Patriots, he was exceptional in that game.
Belichick saw an opportunity to obtain a talent for cheap- a 2018 4th round pick, that is looking like it will turn into a 2018 3rd round pick, is the equivalent of a 2016 6th round pick- and hoped that some consistency could help with Rowe’s game.
“You’re talking about a guy that’s in his second year and now he’s already in his second system, too,” Belichick said. “Actually third system, so what they did in Philadelphia last year with Chip [Kelly], what they did in Philadelphia this year with Jim Schwartz, and what he’s doing now with us. I’d say all three of those are different schemes.
“I’m not sure exactly how the techniques were coached but I’m sure there were differences in the way the techniques were coached and adjustments and things like that. The guy’s been in three systems in under a year and a half, let’s call it. So I think there’s still a lot of growth in him at the corner position just getting confident playing in a scheme, getting confident playing with your teammates, where your help is.”
Add in that Rowe was in a different system at Utah, and that’s his 4th scheme in three seasons.
Rowe has stepped into a starting role with the Patriots and he’s fared well against two of the weaker quarterbacks in the league in Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and he has another softer matchup this week against Jared Goff. It’s important that Rowe receives this transition time to learn the Patriots defense without getting thrown into the deep end.
“When you’re playing out there at corner it’s important to understand where your help is,” Belichick said about Rowe’s learning curve, “whether it’s in man coverage or in zone coverage and what you have to take away, what somebody else can take away, what they can’t take away. You can’t cover everything out there so you have to take away something and you’re a little light on something else, and if the quarterback makes a good throw and the receiver runs a great route then you’re going to be a little light on that.
“Understanding how all of that works, different situational things from second-down, to third-down, to two-minute, to red-area to all of that. Even though it might be the same call, the technique and the finer points of playing the position in those different situations changes a little bit.”
As Rowe continues to gain confidence in the Patriots system- and as the coaching staff gains more confidence in Rowe- he will further challenge Logan Ryan for the right to place opposite of Malcolm Butler. The 6’1 Rowe offers size that no other cornerback on the roster possesses and it makes him an ideal candidate to matchup with larger wide receivers.
Ryan typically handles the role and played it well in 2015, but he is a free agent at the end of the season and he has struggled this year. Rowe is taller, bigger, faster, stronger, more explosive, and quicker than Ryan, which wouldn’t make it a surprise if the Patriots wanted to capitalize on the upside.
|Height||6'0 3/4||5'11 1/8|
|Weight||205 lbs||191 lbs|
|Bench||19 reps||14 reps|
Rowe is under contract through the 2018 season and should group with Butler and 2016 2nd round pick Cyrus Jones to form the core of the Patriots secondary for the next few years.