Eric Rowe was taken with the 47th overall pick in this year's NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly said in his post draft press conference, that the Eagles had targeted Rowe early and were nervous he would be selected before they had a chance to grab him, causing them to trade up five spots to grab him. Rowe's selection has been applauded by both pundits and Eagles fans because of Rowe's physicality, athleticism and versatility. So how does Rowe's future look in Philadelphia? Where does he fit in the Eagles defensive scheme?
To say last year's Philadelphia Eagles needed help in the secondary is an understatement. The team finished 28th in total defense and 31st in passing defense. Chip Kelly responded by getting rid of three of the four starting members of the Eagles secondary, leaving only safety Malcom Jenkins as a returning starter. During the free agent period leading up to the draft, the Eagles signed Byron Maxwell to a big free agent deal, hoping to lock down one of cornerback spots. With Jenkins and Maxwell on the roster as presumed starters, two starting positions remain open in the Eagles secondary. One starting cornerback spot and one starting safety spot.
The Eagles need is greater at safety, as the Eagles have greater depth at cornerback with Brandon Boykin on roster. That being said, Boykin is a much different player than Rowe, standing only 5-10 and weighing 184 lbs. Many think Boykin is better suited to play the slot and there have been rumors he may be on his way out of Philadelphia as well. Chip Kelly has shown an affinity for big, rangy cornerbacks since his arrival, as evidenced by the acquisitions of Cary Williams (6-2 190 lbs.) and Bradley Fletcher (6-0 200 lbs.) in 2013. Neither of those guys worked out for the Eagles and are now gone, but show the prototype size and abilities Kelly wants playing on the outside. Rowe seems to fit the mold of what Kelly is looking for at the corner position, big, physical and athletic.
"From a height-weight-speed parameter, he's kind of off the charts in terms of what he can do from a physical standpoint" said Chip Kelly.
Rowe's ability to play both at safety and at cornerback was one of the main reasons Kelly liked Rowe so much. At 6-1 205 lbs. and having demonstrated his ability to be a big hitter, Rowe seems like a natural fit at the safety spot for the Eagles. Based on Kelly's comments however, it sounds like Rowe will get a look with the cornerbacks first, with Kelly noting the transition from corner to safety is easier than vice versa. Whether he remains a cornerback or eventually moves over to safety will be something to watch in Philadelphia come training camp.
Looking at the Eagles roster, it appears Rowe has an excellent shot of earning a starting role right out of the gate. With the Eagles recent purge of defensive backs, Rowe stands out as probably the most athletic player in the secondary with perhaps the highest ceiling as well. With Rowe's size and press skills, he has a real opportunity to step in and earn the #2 cornerback position opposite Maxwell.
Another attribute that impressed Kelly about Rowe was his intelligence.
"Really strong from a mental standpoint. He's got a really good football IQ. I think those are some of the things that stood out with him."
The fact Rowe has a good head on his shoulders could help earn Kelly's trust quickly and factor into early playing time.
A move to Safety down the line is not out of the question. Kelly said he likes safeties that cover well and Rowe's experience playing corner this past season for the Utes and maybe for a while in the NFL, would serve him well at the safety position.
"We think corners are harder to find than safeties, so we’ll probably start him at corner and then make the decisions as we get through here." Chip Kelly noted.
In the meantime before camp begins, Rowe has signed a 4-year deal with the Eagles and the fans are already embracing him. On Monday, Philly fans twitters were ablaze with the hashtag #DeathRowe.
On Thursday an instagram post of Rowe doing footwork drills was going around fan sites, raving about their team's newest member.
Eagles nation is happy to have Eric Rowe and he seems happy to be there. Rowe will be given every chance to succeed in Philadelphia and with his athleticism and versatility it's hard to see him not carving out a niche for himself in that defense. As with all draft picks time will tell, but for now Chip Kelly is a happy to have the former Ute on his team.
"We felt (Rowe) was the guy we wanted all along," Kelly said. "I wouldn't have been surprised if he went a lot earlier."