In the months leading up to the 2015 NFL draft, Utah’s Eric Rowe has not received as much media attention as some of the other top cornerback prospects in the draft class, such as Michigan State’s Trae Waynes and Washington’s Marcus Peters. Among the NFL teams who will ultimately determine where players are drafted, however, Rowe is receiving no shortage of attention.
A four-year starter for the Utes who also participated in the Senior Bowl, NFL Scouting Combine and Utah’s pro day, Rowe has had as many opportunities as any prospect in the 2015 draft class to impress evaluators with his football skills and athletic attributes.
Even so, Rowe has been in high demand in the weeks leading up to the draft as NFL teams have sought to get an even closer look at the defensive back.
Rowe told Bleacher Report that he has had visits with the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while he has also had private workouts with the Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans and New England Patriots.
Racking up frequent-flier miles as he makes his pitch to NFL teams around the league, Rowe said he has been enjoying the process.
“I love traveling, being in different cities and team facilities,” Rowe said. “I don’t go in there with boxed or canned answers, I just go in there and be myself.”
It’s not usually typical for a player from a major conference, who has already had plentiful opportunities to prove himself on the field, to have as many visits and private workouts as Rowe has had.
The fact that more than a quarter of the NFL’s teams have taken a closer look at Rowe, nonetheless, is nothing but a good sign for his draft stock.
“Size, Athleticism and Versatility”
According to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net, “there’s a feeling Rowe will end up in the second half of round one and won’t get past the 40th pick.”
“Teams who like Rowe but select late in the rounds face a dilemma as most realize if they don’t draft him with their initial selection he won’t be on the board when they’re called on the clock in round two,” Pauline wrote in a blog entry last week. “Teams love Rowe’s size, athleticism and versatility but also feel he’s a smart, coachable player.”
At 6’1” and 205 pounds with 31 ½-inch arms, Rowe has great size for the cornerback position.
“I feel like it’s a big advantage, especially matching up with big, taller receivers,” Rowe said of his size. “They can’t really push me off the line, or if they want to throw a jump ball, I’m not like a 5’9” or 5’10” cornerback, I’ll go right up there with him.”
Rowe’s size could also enable him to move back to safety, a position he played for his first three years at Utah before switching to cornerback as a senior.
“If I had to pick, I would choose corner,” Rowe said in regards to his positional preference for the NFL. “I have more growth at that position, I have a lot more things to work on and having one year experience [playing cornerback], I feel like I did a pretty good job, so with some more practice and more coaching, I’ll get better.”
If drafted to play safety, Rowe believes the experience he has gained playing cornerback will only help him with the coverage demands he might face in the NFL.
“If you want me as a safety, you’ll have a safety with man-coverage experience,” Rowe said. “Nowadays, offenses are flexing out their tight ends, and safeties are having to go out there and cover … if you put me in that defense, that’s something I’m almost second nature to, going out and covering by myself.”
Regardless of which position he is drafted to play, his versatility to play multiple spots in a secondary will only increase his value.
“If I’m doing really good at corner and a safety goes down [with an injury], I know the roster’s not that big; it allows me to move up to safety and show flexibility to provide for the team,” Rowe said.
Rowe certainly has enough athleticism to play either position. At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Rowe posted numbers that ranked him within the top 13 among all participating cornerbacks and safeties in each of the seven measurable drills, according to NFL.com's combine tracker.
|Eric Rowe's NFL Scouting Combine Results|
|40-Yard Dash||Bench||Vertical||Broad||3-Cone||20-Yd Shuttle||60-Yd Shuttle|
|4.45 seconds||19 reps||39"||10'5"||6.70 sec||3.97 sec||11.48 sec|
Specifically, Rowe believes his 20-yard shuttle time of 3.97 seconds, which was the fifth-fastest time among all defensive backs, is an indicator of how his athleticism can help him as an NFL cornerback.
“I can change directions fairly quick. That’ll definitely translate on the field because the corner’s all about changing direction and acceleration,” Rowe said.
Altogether, Rowe’s athletic attributes make him the draft’s 12th-most physically gifted prospect across all positions, according to a metric developed by Bleacher Report’s Ryan Riddle.
Physical Style of Play
Despite having great length and athleticism, Rowe does not simply rely on his physical gifts for success. To the contrary, Rowe actually considers his “aggressive nature of play” to be his greatest strength.
Physicality is a staple of Rowe’s game. It is apparent both in pass defense, where he excels at jamming receivers off the line of scrimmage in press-man coverage, and run defense, as he is a sound tackler who does not shy away from contact.
The following clip, from Utah’s win against Washington State, shows one example of Rowe effectively using his hands in press coverage. Lined up against Washington State wide receiver Isiah Myers on this play, Rowe (No. 18, bottom of screen) was able to disrupt the receiver’s route by preventing him from getting a clean release off the line of scrimmage.
The next two highlights exemplify Rowe’s ability to identify where a ball-carrier is headed, then attack the ball downhill and finish the play with a sound, authoritative tackle.
On the first example, from Utah’s win over Michigan this past season, Rowe deployed a corner blitz to reach Michigan running back Derrick Green as he crossed the line of scrimmage and make a run stop.
On the next highlight, which goes back to last year’s game against Washington State, Rowe initially dropped back into coverage before coming back more than 15 yards to make a stop after Washington State running back Jamal Morrow broke a tackle attempt by one of Rowe’s teammates, Brian Blechen.
Rowe said his physical style of play has been inspired by former Indianapolis Colts safety Bob Sanders, who was one of Rowe's favorite players to watch growing up.
“I always wanted to hit like him, just the way he just brought it every play,” Rowe said. “I try to have that same aggressive nature as him.”
Where Rowe Can Improve
Rowe’s physicality and his ability to use that to his advantage at the cornerback position are readily apparent. On the other hand, Rowe acknowledged that he needs to work on his ability to play in off-man coverage, that being when he is matched up against a single wide receiver but starts the play away from the line of scrimmage.
“I didn’t practice it as much at Utah because we barely used that coverage, only in certain situations,” Rowe said of his need to improve in off-man coverage.
Brent Sobleski, an NFL draft analyst for Bleacher Report, believes Rowe has “tremendous length and athleticism for the cornerback position” but needs to refine his technique.
“After converting from safety, his transition was smooth to his new position,” Sobleski said of Rowe. “Unfortunately, the transition through his back pedal isn't nearly fluid. He'll lose ground when asked to turn and run with receivers. But he can be developed as a very talented press corner.”
“If he doesn't work out at cornerback, safety is always a fallback option,” Sobleski added.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report’s NFL draft lead writer, also has concerns about his coverage technique and grades him as a “late third- or early fourth-round” pick as a result.
“He's definitely fast and has the size and length teams love, but his coverage skills are very raw, and there's some hip stiffness and height in his backpedal that likely won't go away,” Miller said. “He's a press cover corner but lacks the hip turn to run with NFL receivers and may need to play free safety to see his career fulfilled. There's certainly intrigue to his game and pure traits, but his technique and upside for better technique seems low to me.”
In spite of those concerns, the interest Rowe is generating from NFL teams appears to have him on track to be selected much earlier than the late third round.
Where Will Rowe Be Drafted?
While Rowe’s measurables and physicality rank him near the top of the class at cornerback, he could also potentially be ranked as the draft’s top safety, a position that is viewed to have a lack of top-end talent in this year’s class.
Ultimately, the position he plays in the NFL will be determined—at least initially—by the secondary needs of the team that makes the call to draft him before anyone else can.
The sweet spot for Rowe’s draft stock could come between picks 19 and 32, where the Browns (No. 19 overall pick), Eagles (No. 20), Lions (No. 23), Cardinals (No. 24), Ravens (No. 26) and Patriots (No. 32) all have first-round picks.
The Green Bay Packers, who hold the No. 30 overall pick, are also among the teams highly interested in Rowe, according to Tony Pauline. Additional teams picking in that late first-round range who could potentially target Rowe for secondary help include the Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 22 overall pick), Dallas Cowboys (No. 27), Indianapolis Colts (No. 29) and New Orleans Saints (No. 31).
Should he make it past all of those teams in Round 1, potential landing spots for Rowe in the first half of Round 2 would include Tampa Bay (No. 34), the Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 36), the Atlanta Falcons (No. 42), Cleveland (No. 43), New Orleans (No. 44), the Minnesota Vikings (No. 45) and Miami (No. 47).
Regardless of where Rowe gets drafted, his objective is to “make an impact right away.”
“I want to be one of those players like [New York Jets cornerback] Darrelle Revis, that if he was traded, would make an instant impact for his defense,” Rowe said. “That’s my overall career goal.”
Rowe, who does not plan to attend the NFL draft (April 30-May 2), said he also has a post-career goal of becoming a commercial developer in real estate.
The cornerback expects to prove to his NFL team that he is “someone that can connect with anybody” and will have “good relationships” with all of his teammates.
“My personality off the field does not match my personality during a game,” Rowe said. “During a game, I have so much energy, I talk a lot, it looks like I’m just a trash-talker and then off the field, [I’m] laid back, calm.
“You can’t play a game and not trust your teammates, so I just want to have that trust factor with all my teammates,” Rowe added.
Correction: This article previously stated that Rowe will be attending the draft. He will not be attending the draft.
Dan Hope is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.