While most of the talk surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles right now is about whether or not head coach Chip Kelly is a “racist.” But everyone should be talking about their impressive 2015 NFL Draft class and the job Kelly did even though it was just his first time running a draft.
One pick in particular stands out and that is the Eagles second round pick, cornerback Eric Rowe. No, not just because he was my favorite prospect in the entire draft, because he’s exactly what the Eagles needed. Besides safety Malcolm Jenkins this past season, Philadelphia’s secondary was an embarrassment the past two years with Kelly at the helm. He understood it was time for change on the back-end of the team’s defense.
Kelly began fixing the group by signing free agent cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, as well as signing E.J. Biggers, who has experience at both cornerback and safety. But that wasn’t it, Kelly drafted three cornerbacks in the 2015 NFL Draft and none was more important than Rowe. At 6’1″, 205 lbs., Rowe has the size the Eagles adore but he has four years of starting experience in the Pac-12, including three at safety and his final year at cornerback.
It remains to be seen which position Rowe will play in midnight green, but it sounds like it’ll be cornerback. Either way, his skill and versatility is exactly what the team has been missing the past two years. Rowe has the smooth coverage ability of a cornerback but plays with the aggressive mind-set of a safety.
The Eagles were pursuing New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty hard in free agency. That was mostly due to his experience at both cornerback and safety paired with his outstanding skills in coverage. Rowe has quite a while to go before he reaches McCourty’s level of play, but that could certainly be his ceiling based on his potential.
Kelly openly admitted that Rowe and Byron Jones were the two defensive backs that Philadelphia really wanted. Rowe was a possible trade-back target at the end of the first round but the Eagles stayed at their original slot and added wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Sure enough, Rowe dropped to the middle of the second round and Kelly knew it was time to trade up and get the guy they really wanted to add to their secondary.
It was obvious that the Eagles and Kelly loved Rowe during the pre-draft process as well. Kelly attended Utah’s pro day, brought Rowe in for a visit to Philadelphia, worked him out privately and spoke to him at the Senior Bowl as well. Clearly the interests was legit and Rowe was one the team’s primary targets.
Now the Eagles have a young, long, athletic defensive back that they can throw into the mix with Jenkins and Maxwell to give them a promising starting secondary. That’s something the Eagles haven’t had in a very long time, dating back to the days of Brian Dawkins, Sheldon Brown, Quintin Mikell and Lito Sheppard.
Philadelphia already has a front seven that’s loaded with talent and dominates against the run. Now Kelly has added more than enough pieces to make the secondary equally as good. It remains to be seen who will start at safety if Rowe doesn’t make the switch there, that’s the only concern. Hopefully second-year defensive back Jaylen Watkins is ready to step up and win that job.
Either way, it’s clear that Kelly has emphasized improving the secondary this offseason and drafting Rowe was a key part of it all. Hopefully the team’s pass defense improves and all the money and picks spent during the offseason actually amount to something.
But one thing is clear, you can’t deny that Kelly has tried to improve the Eagles’ secondary. Now it’s just up to the players to step up and play better on the field. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.
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