By Dan Durkin--
(CBS) Considering the amount of time defenses spend in nickel (five-defensive back) and dime (six-defensive back) sub packages, it's imperative to have depth at the cornerback position. Throw in the fact that offenses scheme matchups to exploit sub defenders out of the slot with bigger and faster receivers, length is becoming a crucial measurable for cornerback prospects.
Today we take a look at a cornerback prospect with length and position versatility: Utah's Eric Rowe.
CB Eric Rowe (6-foot-1, 205 pounds, 22, Utah)
40-yard dash: 4.45
Arm: 31 1/2″
Bio: Rowe arrived in Salt Lake City as an all-district defensive back prospect from Klein High School in Spring, Texas, where he also lettered in baseball and track.
As a true freshman in 2011, Rowe started all 13 games at safety (10 at free safety and three at strong safety), breaking up nine passes, which ranked second on the team. He finished the season with 69 tackles, 10 passes defended, two-and-a-half tackles for loss, one sack and one interception, earning freshman All-American honors. In 2012, he started 10 games at free safety but missed time in three games due to a hamstring injury. He finished the season with 64 tackles and led the team with 39 solo tackles, six passes defended and one interception.
In 2013, Rowe started all 12 games at free safety and finished with 69 tackles, seven passes broken up, one tackle for loss and a half-sack. For his senior season, he transitioned to left cornerback, making nine starts there and one at free safety. He led the team with 13 passes broken up, had 59 tackles, three tackles for loss and returned an interception for a touchdown.
In total, Rowe appeared in 47 games at Utah, making 45 starts, with the majority coming at free safety. His 34 career pass break-ups rank third in school history.
How he fits the Bears' scheme: Evidenced by the players who the 49ers scouted and drafted over the past few seasons to play in Vic Fangio's secondary, length and versatility stand out. Rowe possesses both of these traits. Fangio plays a lot of mixed coverages in his secondary, manning up on the perimeter with his corners as he plays zone with underneath (linebacker) and deep (safety defenders). Thus, cornerbacks frequently need to be able to hold up on an island.
After transitioning to cornerback, Rowe played a lot of press-man techniques on the perimeter, showing physicality to jam and re-route receivers on their release, then the corresponding footwork to bail and stay on their hip in a trail position. In off-man coverage, he showed the ability to pedal smoothly, then plant and drive downhill to make a play on the ball.
Rowe's background as a safety is a boon, as he's a willing and physical run-support player. He can defeat receivers when blocked, play with proper contain and keep his hands free to make a play on the ball-carrier.
One area of concern with Rowe is his ball skills. Given the number of passes he broke up in his career, only pulling down three interceptions makes his hands a concern. While it's a benefit to break passes up, top-tier corners in the NFL have to be play-makers on passes they're in position to defend. While Rowe has straight-line speed, he can lose receivers at the top of the route, which may be a concern for teams considering moving him back to safety.
Draft projection: Given his measurables, position versatility and speed, Rowe projects as a solid second-round prospect.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.
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