Once upon a time, all the way back to the middle of college football season, Eric Rowe was a relatively unknown prospect out of Utah. The talented, but low profile cornerback was having a quietly productive year, but he lacked the big name recognition of Trae Waynes from Michigan State or Kendall Fuller of Virginia Tech (Corey and Kyle’s younger brother). Fast forward to March and he’s being talked about as a strong first round option for several teams, the Detroit Lions included.
As a skeptic of fast risers, I took to the draft analysts I trust to get their opinion on Rowe. The consensus? Go watch his tape. He’s a first rounder. As someone who spends more of his time around the facts and figures side of football, I had only briefly looked at Rowe’s tape and, while impressive, had yet to buy into the hype.
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At the 2015 NFL Combine, the world was enthralled with Byron Jones‘ impressive display, much like how they were paying more attention to Trae Waynes and others during the college season. Yet there was Eric Rowe, posting some of the best numbers of any player at the combine.
As a three year starter at free safety, many draft analysts believe that’s his natural position and his combine numbers definitely back up that assumption. While a 8.98 RAS grade is very good and ranks 38th out of 371 qualifying CBs, Rowe’s 9.00 grade as a safety (while only slightly higher) ranks 16th among safeties. He’s athletic for a corner, but even more so for a safety. As strong as those numbers are, I feel any team drafting him will take a look at him as a corner first and only convert him to safety if the need is much greater or if he struggles at corner.
Eric Rowe is a long, athletic player who was asked to play both man and zone, press and off coverage at Utah. His strengths were clearly in man coverage despite being asked to do both and whomever drafts him will likely try to limit how often they put him in zone and expect him to adjust quickly.
For the Lions, this is a trait very similar to Darius Slay, who struggled much in the same way as a rookie and hadn’t quite shaken it off by his 2nd (much better) season. You’ll probably still see Eric Rowe rated in the 2nd or even later rounds, but don’t be fooled. Much like Kyle Fuller and Jason Verrett in 2014, Rowe is on the rise.
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