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You don't need me to tell you that the offseason departures of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner left a sizable hole at corner on the Patriots roster. With Malcolm Butler, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, Bradley Fletcher, Chimdi Chekwa and Robert McClain already on the roster, depth appears to be set, but the team currently lacks a proven starting option capable of checking top receivers. Given that they stand to face Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall (twice), Sammy Watkins (twice), TY Hilton and DeAndre Hopkins this coming season, that's an urgent issue that needs to be addressed.

With the free agent market essentially dried up at this point, any improvements will have to come from the draft. They've spent plenty of time this spring evaluating the cornerback class, with Utah's Eric Rowe amongst the prospects receiving the most attention from them. A three year starter at free safety for the Utes, Rowe moved outside to corner and played well there as a senior. It's easy to understand the Patriots interest, as there is a lot to like about Rowe as a player: he has ideal size and length for the position, excellent instincts and ball skills, and is a sure, physical tackler who is willing to sacrifice his body in the run game. That physicality also translates to special teams (he played on the punt return and coverage teams in college), and his positional versatility will surely appeal to Bill Belichick.

Measurables:

Ht: 6'1"
Wt: 205
Arm length: 31 1/2"
Hand size: 9 1/2"
40 time: 4.45
Bench: 19
Vert: 39"
Broad jump: 125"
3 cone drill 6.70
20 yd shuffle 3.97
60 yd shuffle 11.48

College statistics

Graphic via www.sports-reference.com
Professional comparison:

Hard to come up with one, as the transition from safety to outside corner is far more rare than the corner to safety switch we've seen by Devin McCourty, Jairus Byrd and many other defensive backs. NFL.com makes a comparison to Pierre Desir, a 2014 fourth round pick of the Browns. Desir has similar measurables (6'2", 206) to Rowe, and he played well when given a chance as a rookie, breaking up several potential touchdowns to Kelvin Benjamin in his lone start. NFL.com also notes that Rowe's preference for playing the sidelines could make him a fit for a cover 3 scheme like Seattle's, where he'd have safety help over the top.



Strengths:
  • Ideal size and length for position
  • Excellent athleticism
  • Excels at jamming receivers at the line
  • Uses length well to contest and often break up catches
  • Physical, willing tackler
  • Smart and instinctive in zone
  • Positional flexibility- spent 3 years at safety in college
  • Displayed ability as a safety to cover the slot
  • Special teams contributor
Weaknesses:
  • Lack of experience on the outside
  • Not much of a ballhawk- only three career interceptions in four year college career
  • Can struggle with elite quickness
  • Good, but not great deep speed
  • Over-reliant on playing receivers towards the sidelines
  • Might be better fit to play safety at the next level
Projection: Second round

Rowe was originally thought of as a middle round prospect, but he has shot up draft boards as teams have gotten a closer look at him. His rise began with a fantastic combine performance that saw him put up top numbers in every drill he participated in. Rowe sat on those workout numbers at Utah's Pro Day but reportedly impressed scouts with his positional workout. Rowe has worked out for or visited with the Patriots, Lions, Eagles, Raiders, Saints, Bucs, Texans, Browns, Dolphins, Falcons and Ravens, with the Eagles showing enough interest to send head coach Chip Kelly to Utah's pro day. It would be shocking at this point if he lasts past the Eagles second round pick (52nd overall).

Will the Patriots draft him?

It certainly seems like they're interested. According to Tony Pauline, the Patriots private workout with Rowe was expected to consist of "a bit of film work and maybe a light practice session". We know that Bill Belichick values intelligence, versatility, and tackling ability from his defensive backs, and Rowe clearly provides all three in bunches. The issue from a Patriots perspective is whether Rowe will be available at a spot with good value. Despite his rapid ascent up draft boards, the 32nd pick appears to be too rich for him, especially given the prospects at other positions who could be available at that spot. It's possible he'll be there at the end of the second round, but not particularly likely. Any scenario with the Pats landing Rowe will likely include a trade, be it trading up from their second round pick or back from their first rounder into the early/middle portion of the second round.

Ned Brady 4/29/2015 12:30:00 PM Edit
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