NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
There were no expectations for Nate Ebner when the New England Patriots selected him at pick No. 197 overall in the 2012 NFL draft.
The youngest ever national sevens rugby player turned Ohio State football walk-on was still learning the game, having never played a down at Hilliard Davidson High School just 20 minutes away. But it didn’t take long for the 6’0”, 210-pound Ebner to find his purpose in Foxborough, the same way he did on his way to becoming a team captain and Bo-Rein Award recipient in Columbus.
By being a core special-teamer.
Ebner went on to play 15 games as a Patriots rookie in 2012, registering 12 tackles as a big-four player. And in 2013, he registered another nine tackles to go with two fumble recoveries. Yet, heading into his third season in New England, the 25-year-old had played a total of 41 snaps on the defensive side of the ball, according to Pro Football Focus. Just five transpired over the season prior.
It remained to be seen how, or where, he would play another. With former Patriots draft choices Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon all filtering in next to free safety Devin McCourty, options abound. But, even as cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan spelled on the back end of the secondary, Ebner ultimately remained in the fold to do the same.
That was evidenced last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
Ebner played 14 snaps on defense over the course of New England’s 30-7 win. Yet on 11 of those snaps, he was the third safety on the field. And he was, in a sense, not a safety at all.