We have entered the quiet parts of the NFL offseason. Free agency and the draft are behind us, while minicamp and training camp won't start until early June and late July, respectively. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
After all, until the late-August's roster cuts, players need to have secured their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we’ll continue the series with the team’s third cornerback.
Name: Eric Rowe
Jersey number: 25
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’1, 205 lbs.
2016 review: Even though Eric Rowe was a second round draft selection in 2015 and appeared in all 16 of the Philadelphia Eagles’ games his rookie season, the team opted to put him on the trade block. This allowed the Patriots to bring him aboard just days before the 2017 season opener, sending a conditional 2018 draft pick to Philadelphia in the process.
Rowe’s tenure in New England started on the sidelines: After being inactive in week one, he suffered an ankle injury during practice and was forced to sit out the next four games. When he returned to the field in week six against the Cincinnati Bengals, he was quickly able to establish himself as the Patriots’ number three cornerback – a role he would hold throughout the rest of the season.
As the Patriots’ third corner, Rowe appeared in nine of the team’s regular season games and all three postseason contests. He was on the field for 43.3% (452 of 1,044) and 70.6% (132 of 187) of defensive snaps, respectively, and due to his frame was mostly used against taller wide receivers. He generally fared pretty well.
Rowe was in coverage on a combined 63 pass attempts, allowing only 29 (46.0%) to be completed for 394 yards and two scores. Furthermore, he intercepted two passes while breaking up seven more. Rowe, who brought a visible element of physicality and energy to the defense, also registered 37 tackles in his 12 combined games for the Patriots.
2017 preview: Rowe’s spot on the Patriots’ 53-man roster appears to be safe due to his modest $878,624 salary cap hit (38th on the team), successful 2016 campaign and upside. Spending an entire offseason in New England will also help him grow into an even more effective cornerback in the team’s system. However, he will also likely be the player most impacted by New England’s free agency signing of Stephon Gilmore.
At 6’1, 205 lbs, Rowe was the biggest cornerback on the Patriots’ roster last season – and the team used him as such. The Super Bowl, when he was asked to shadow Julio Jones with safety help over the top, is the most prominent example of how the coaching staff liked his height and range against tall, physical wide receivers.
And while New England has a lot of bigger wideouts on its upcoming schedule, it would not be a surprise to see Rowe share coverage duties with Gilmore, who is also 6’1. Consequently, his playing time will once again be mostly dictated by matchups. If 2016 is an indication, though, he is still projected to serve as New England’s number three cornerback.
As a result, he will likely play more than the 50% of defensive snaps needed for the Eagles to gain a third round pick instead of a fourth rounder. But since Rowe adds quality depth to the Patriots’ secondary and will only turn 25 during the season, the team probably does not worry too much about it.