NFL scouts didn’t quite know what to make of Eric Rowe when he was coming out of Utah prior to last year’s draft. Was he a cornerback? Was he a safety?
A year and a half later, those questions still are being asked after he reportedly was traded from the Philadelphia Eagles to the New England Patriots on Tuesday.
The initial sense is the Patriots will continue to try to convert the 6-foot-1, 205-pound defensive back to safety — something he couldn’t handle in his year-plus with the Eagles. Some scouts believe Rowe still can make it as a cornerback — a position at which he would provide more value because of his size and press-man skills.
Regardless of whether Rowe plays cornerback or safety with the Patriots, it’s nice for them to have a big, tall, former second-round pick signed through 2018. Starting cornerback Malcolm Butler is scheduled to be a restricted free agent next year, and fellow starter Logan Ryan will be an unrestricted free agent. Free safety Duron Harmon, who isn’t a starter but is a key contributor in nickel, also will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
The Patriots likely hope they can lock up Butler, Ryan and Harmon on new contracts, but they also must re-sign linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower and defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich. Something will have to give.
If Rowe plays cornerback with the Patriots, he likely would start out fourth or fifth on the depth chart, behind Butler, Ryan, Justin Coleman and/or rookie Cyrus Jones. If Rowe plays safety, he’d probably be the fourth-best option, behind Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. Nate Ebner primarily is a special-teamer, and Jordan Richards struggled in coverage this preseason.
This move isn’t so much to fill an immediate need but is a necessary look to the future. Rowe could fill in at multiple spots this year. With solid starters in Butler, Ryan, McCourty and Chung already in New England, Rowe can be given room to grow.
Rowe now is the tallest Patriots defensive back, and he could provide help against some of the bigger receivers New England will face this season in Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Josh Gordon, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall and Demaryius Thomas. Rowe also comes in as one of the best athletes on the team. He tore up the combine last year with a 4.45-second 40-yard dash, 6.70-second three-cone, 3.97-second short shuttle, 39-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump.
Rowe was described by a scout as someone Patriots head coach Bill Belichick can turn around. Rowe is one of many reclamation projects on New England’s roster, joining former first- and second-round picks such as linebacker Barkevious Mingo, guard Jonathan Cooper and running back Bishop Sankey.
So the Patriots are loaded with talent. Now it’s about developing those raw skills — something the Eagles couldn’t do with Rowe.
Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images