A bonus mailbag question on the long weekend, building off the weekly Saturday feature in which one question from Twitter is selected to expound upon based on a hot topic surrounding the New England Patriots:
@MikeReiss Would you say Rowe is more of a 'first man up behind starter' than a top slot guy?
— Toby Milton (@tmilt) May 28, 2017
Toby, this question on cornerback Eric Rowe comes after Thursday's organized team activity in which Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler worked as the top cornerback tandem, with 2016 undrafted free-agent Jonathan Jones getting the majority of work as the third corner in the nickel package. Whether that continues to be the case going forward remains to be seen, but it provides a jumping-off point to talk about the club's overall cornerback personnel, such as Rowe.
Rowe was a capable matchup player for the Patriots in 2016, as he is a bigger corner at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds. So depending on the receiver personnel of the opposition in 2017, he could easily be in that top-3 mix with Gilmore and Butler, who seem solidified in the top two spots.
Super Bowl LI is a good snapshot of this. When the Patriots were assessing their matchups against Falcons receivers Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, they sometimes had Rowe on Jones. Because Jones is a bigger receiver at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, it made sense to put a bigger corner like Rowe on him.
So as we look ahead to 2017, a team that has multiple big receivers figures to result in Rowe playing more in the team's nickel packages. He also could be tapped against certain tight ends who are essentially bigger wide receivers.
In summary, if everyone is healthy, it doesn't seem like a stretch to say Rowe's playing time total will fluctuate based on specific matchups.