Nate Ebner has replaced Ross Ventrone as the roster bubble safety that New England Patriots love, and I am not immune to the Ebner-love. The former rugby player has also became a favorite of mine, and I’m sure we all hopped on his bandwagon after he had an excellent preseason last year. Although I don’t think the core special teamer will be cut this year, he is on the roster bubble and will need to continue to play well in training camp this time.
Last season, Ebner barely played any snaps on defense, and the Pro Football Focus charted him with just 36 snaps last season. The interesting thing is that most of his time came at free safety, and he never received playing time after the bye week (the last time he had snaps on defense was against the St. Louis Rams in London). The lack of snaps makes it impossible to actually evaluate Ebner as a player, but I didn’t like what I saw out of him in coverage. He never played once Devin McCourty was able to make the switch to free safety (well, technically following the New England Patriots acquisition of Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and that’s probably for the better. The fact that he played at FS more often is a function of a lack of depth in coverage safeties prior to the McCourty switch, because I would think a special teamer of Ebner’s caliber would be best suited as a strong safety (where he can be more hard-nosed and better play the run).
A sixth-round pick out of Ohio State last season, Nate Ebner was picked by the New England Patriots on Ohio State coach Mike Vrabel’s recommendation. The former key Patriots defensive player likely saw something in Ebner that nobody else did, and I would say his recommendation has been good to this point. Ebner is never going to be a player who will get significant snaps at safety, unless if he makes strides heading into year three (2014), but he should be able to carve out a Matthew Slater-type role as a top-notch player on special teams in the NFL. If there is a team that highly values special teams, then it’s the New England Patriots, as they had the best special teams unit in the NFL last season (thanks to guys like Slater and Ebner).
Nate Ebner recorded 16 tackles on special teams last season, and he is absolutely incredible when defending kick-off returns. Ebner is a downhill terror, because he’s not afraid of collisions or flying bodies. All that mess on returns doesn’t bug him, and that’s the rugby blood in Ebner’s veins. He’s the kind of player who can make a living on a roster on special teams, and that’s something he definitely has to bank on. ESPN Boston gave Ebner a 65% chance of making the roster, and that’s something I agree with due to his value on special teams and affordable price tag. You would ideally like to see Ebner bring something to the table on defense, but he’s just a depth safety and could play the run as an SS. And honestly, I’d rather have him on the roster than pay Steve Gregory the rest of the three-year, $7.05 million deal he signed last season to be an ineffective third or fourth safety (depends on if he can outplay Tavon Wilson).
Even as a rookie, Ebner showed that he has what it takes to be an elite special teamer, and he had one memorable game on return coverage (if that is possible) against the Indianapolis Colts. 65% chance to make the New England Patriots final roster? Well, I like those odds for Ebner.