The New England Patriots currently have the maximum of 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with one of the Patriots’ cornerbacks.
Name: Eric Rowe
Jersey number: 25
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6’1, 205 lbs.
2017 review: Entering his first full season with the Patriots, Eric Rowe was projected to be the team’s number three cornerback. The former second-round draft pick was just that, at least when healthy: Overall, Rowe was active for only 11 of New England’s 19 games in 2017 due to a groin injury suffered in week two. As a result, he played only eight games and 24.4% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps during the regular season (259 of 1,060).
Rowe’s role grew significantly over its last few games, though, and into the postseason: During the team’s three playoffs contests, he was on the field for 78.7% of snaps (170 of 216) and by Super Bowl 52 was New England’s number two cornerback alongside Stephon Gilmore. While Rowe started the title game slowly, he improved after the second quarter and was actually one of the better defensive players against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In general, he was rather solid when on the field in 2017: Rowe finished the season with a combined 27 tackles (one of which for loss) and allowed a little more than half of the passes thrown his way to be completed (23 of 40) for 367 yards and two touchdowns. Playing primarily from the slot and in one-on-one coverage against bigger targets, he also registered six pass breakups along the way.
All in all, 2017 proved to be a difficult season for Rowe. While he was a mostly solid player when on the field, his injury clearly bothered him for most of the year and prevented him from playing a bigger role on New England’s defense until late during the season.
2018 preview: When the Patriots’ decision makers benched Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl and afterwards let him walk in free agency, it opened a hole at the number two cornerback spot. Rowe filled it in the short term by playing 96% of defensive snaps during the title game, and he also is a realistic candidate to be among the players replacing Butler in the long run.
In order to do that, Rowe has to earn a roster spot first. But while he is no sure-fire lock to make the team à la Stephon Gilmore and second-round rookie Duke Dawson, it would be a surprise to see the Patriots move on from the 25-year old defensive back. After all, Rowe has played considerable snaps over his two seasons with the team, has the versatility to play on the perimeter and in the slot, and possesses an intriguing athletic skill set.
Realistically, Rowe and offseason acquisition Jason McCourty will compete for the number two cornerback spot and possibly take turns depending on the opponent. In any case, Rowe is projected to again see considerable playing time this season as a member of the top-three at the position. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, he also could be in line for a contract extension.