BALTIMORE — Being able to contribute at multiple positions is an attribute that the Baltimore Ravens treasure. That is especially the case on the back end of the defense. The two safeties (Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks) that they selected in the last two years of the NFL Draft possess cornerback traits. Both of these players have been asked to drop down in the box and cover slot receivers.
One defensive back that has been tied to the Ravens is Utah’s Eric Rowe. Rowe played safety during his first three years at the University of Utah. He switched to corner going into his senior year. The move was made as a result of his ability to cover slot receivers in sub packages.
Getting a taste of life on the island was an experience that Rowe really liked. If you ask him, he prefers to play corner over safety but is willing play either position for whatever team that selects him. “I think of myself as a corner but obviously I can do both. If a team needs me at safety, I am there. I have the added value that I can play both spots at any given time,” Rowe said. “I feel like I have had more success at corner. I love the challenge of going one on one with receivers. Being on the island is more of a challenge and I love it.”
The mindset that is required to play corner and safety requires two different thought processes. Rowe enjoys having the flexibility to play both positions and has the mindset that is needed for either position.
“I can change mindsets pretty fast. The USC game for example, I played safety the whole first half. Then in the second half, I played corner which requires a whole different mindset,” Rowe continued; “From safety, you get to view the whole formation. As plays develop, you have to use your peripheral vision. You have to see every route. As a corner, it changes because you only have to see half of the field. You can also use the sideline for help.”
Rowe has a 6-1, 205 pound frame which supports being able to excel at both positions. He knows how to use his hands to redirect receivers at the line of scrimmage. Rowe is able to make receivers move laterally as opposed to getting a clean release. This disrupts the timing. It may not seem like Rowe has an aggressive mindset when talking to him, but his tone changes and his eyes light up when he talks about how much he likes to jam receivers.
“I keep my eyes on the receiver’s hips. When he releases, I like to get a good punch on him and flatten him out. Once I get a hand to the chest it’s over. It feels good to be right on target and watch them go back a bit.” Rowe said; “ I have long arms so when I press, I can reach out to them and get a jam on them first.”
It’s clear that Rowe is comfortable in press coverage. In the video below, you will see how Rowe can still cover a receiver if he has to play off man. The Michigan receiver is lined up off of the line of scrimmage. Rowe shows great patience and allows the receiver to waste time at the line to get a free release that Rowe was going to give him anyway. The patience that Rowe uses allows him to react to the receiver as he telegraphs what he is going to do.
Rowe doesn’t panic when the receiver gets close to him. He simply turns and runs with the receiver stride for stride.
Instead of turning and looking to see when the ball is thrown, Rowe reads the receiver’s eyes. The receiver’s eyes will always tell when the ball is coming. As the ball gets closer, notice how relaxed Rowe is. He has a long frame and it makes it harder for quarterbacks to drop the ball over him and into the receiver’s hands. This is exactly what makes Richard Sherman so hard to complete deep throws against. Rowe times his jump and breaks up the pass at the last moment.
2015 NFL Draft Spotlight: Utah DB Eric Rowe
Rowe is a physical defensive back that shows the desire to make plays against the run. He may not always use the right angles when closing in on a ball carrier, but that is what makes him a better prospect as a corner than a safety. He is able to run through receiver blocks and make tackles on wide receiver screens.
His thirst for physical contact shows when he makes tackles. Rowe lowers his shoulders and drives through running backs. Teams will also let him walk down to the line of scrimmage and blitz from the nickel spot or on a true corner blitz. This takes advantage of his aggressiveness.
Draft projection: Late 2nd to 3rd round
Why should the Ravens consider this prospect?
Eric Rowe is a true hybrid player that is a better corner than safety. His desire to press goes hand in hand with what the Ravens want from their defensive backs. The Ravens use a lot of man coverage. Rowe mentioned in Indianapolis that he is most comfortable in press man coverage. Jimmy Smith is a player that the team plans on offering an extension to in the near future. He is a similar long, press corner that would be an excellent influence on Rowe. Having two bigger, physical corners would present problems to opposing offenses.
Additionally, Rowe is clean off of the field. He was selected to the Pac 12 All – Academic team in both his junior and senior seasons. He will fit right into the Ravens locker room. Coach Harbaugh obviously places a premium on special teams as well. Rowe saw plenty of time as a gunner on punt team while at Utah.
NFL Comparison: Jimmy Smith
These two players are very similar in size and ability. Smith is 6-2, 211 pounds while Rowe is 6-1, 205 pounds. Their results at the combine are strikingly similar as well. Rowe’s 4.45 forty time along with his 3.97 20 yard shuttle where slightly better than Smith who registered a 4.46 and 4.06. Smith did best Rowe on the bench by five reps (Smith: 24/Rowe: 19).
More importantly, on the football field, both of these players use their length to harass receivers at the line of scrimmage. They also share a desire to mix it up in run support. Rowe does face the same questions about the angles that he takes to ball carriers which is exactly what people questioned about Smith as he came out of Colorado. Like Smith, Rowe may not start right away but will develop into a solid starter down the line.