After selecting Nelson Agholor in the first round, the Eagles were aggressive in the second round in order to move up and select Utah cornerback, Eric Rowe. There were rumors swirling before the draft that the Eagles liked Rowe enough to take him at pick 20 (which should speak to how much they liked Agholor), so being able to snag him on day two was a huge win for the front office. Plenty of people were talking about the glaring needs in the secondary over the last year and selecting Rowe should go a long way to revitalize the back four of the defense.
The first thing that stands out about Rowe, and probably did to Eagles scouts, was his long frame. Rowe stands at 6-1 and weighs 205 pounds. He is a bit lanky and definitely could stand to put on some good weight over the next year. On tape, Rowe's size is a great asset to him at the line of scrimmage. He does a great job of using his length to jam receivers at the line. He has a strong punch to throw off the timing of receivers and often, if he gets his hands on the receiver at the line, they are a non factor on that play.
In coverage, Rowe's size makes it very difficult for the receiver to gain advantage at the catch point. In man coverage, Rowe often plays the receiver in the air, instead of the ball, which works sometimes, but can also lead to pass interference penalties in the NFL (I'm looking at you, Bradley Fletcher). Rowe also has a tendency to be timid in his movement at corner. He isn't athletically limited, as showed at the combine, but the fact that he only played one season at corner limited how comfortable he looked from time to time.
Oh right, Eric Rowe spent three years playing free safety for the Utes.
This is where it gets a bit interesting. Rowe was moved to corner before his senior season and despite having plenty of good tape, there is plenty to make me believe that he is best suited at safety. When playing in deep zone coverage, Rowe did an outstanding job diagnosing plays, breaking towards the ball, and making the play. Keeping things in front of him makes him so much deadlier on defense and maximizes his ability.
He is a very good athlete, it was just difficult for him to show that off at corner due to him being new to the position. He has the range, speed, burst and leaping ability to be a stud corner, but his comfortability at safety makes him a lot more appealing there.
As a tackler, Rowe is conservative while bringing down the ball carrier. Rarely will he make the big, highlight hits, but does a good job consistently squaring up and making the play. Due to his height, he tends to tackle a bit high, which makes it easier for the carrier to gain a few more yards, but that is a fixable issue. Needless to say, he was one of the most efficient tacklers among defensive backs in college football last year. This is very important because he is incredibly good at limiting yards after the catch in coverage and you can trust him in the open field against the run.
Against the run, he tends to get blocked out of plays more often than you want to see from a bigger corner. He is willing to play the run, he just gets outmuscled way too often. Once again, this is something that is fixable, so long as he is willing to play the run.
Overall, Rowe is an outstanding safety prospect with an almost complete skill set for him to excel there. At corner, he is a bit more raw and it shows, but he offers fairly immediate impact as a press man corner. If he is able to get more comfortable playing corner, I have very little doubt he will be able to excel there as well.
Pro Comparison: Brandon Browner at Corner, Devin McCourty at safety.
Here is Rowe doing work against fellow second round pick, Devin Funchess.
In terms of pure value, this was my favorite pick the Eagles made in this years class. Rowe was a borderline first round talent to me and the Eagles were equally high, if not higher than me on him. This was a perfect marriage of need and value, even with the trade up in the second round the Eagles made to get him. If they truly believed he was a first round talent, this is an outstanding pick.
Many moons ago, Bradley Fletcher was getting burned for three touchdowns in one game and Cary Williams was costing the team with his obnoxious pass interferences in other games. Now, they are gone and cannot hurt us any more. Byron Maxwell was brought in on a juicy free agent contract to man one of the corner spots, Walter Thurmond was signed to a one year deal to provide depth, Brandon Boykin is still here to provide coverage in the slot and 2014 draft pick, Jaylen Watkins, has added weight for a probable move to safety. Looking at that group, there is a great opportunity for Rowe to come into camp and win the number two corner spot. He has the length and athletic ability that the team covets on the outside and is a huge upgrade over anything we had there last year.
Like I said before, I would love for Rowe to get a shot at the safety spot opposite of Malcolm Jenkins, but Chip Kelly hinted that he would like Rowe at corner his rookie year.
I am confident that Rowe wins the other outside corner job despite his rawness. I like his long term projection at either corner or safety, I just think that safety makes more sense due to positional value and his experience there. I am sure that the coaching staff will keep their minds open during training camp. Regardless, Rowe's addition to the secondary injects a physicality and athletic presence that the unit did not have on the outside last year. He may have some rookie bumps as he continues to adjust to corner, but I am excited about the player he will become long term.
Somewhat Arbitrary Stat Prediction (At Corner): 65 Tackles, 10 Passes Defended, 60% allowed completion, 3 interceptions, 5 allowed touchdowns.