Monday, April 30, 2012

Nate Ebner hopes to emulate Stephen Neal's success

By Josh Alper
April 29, 2012

It was an unusual draft for Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

They traded up twice in the first round after years of dealing down and they didn’t make a trade with the Eagles. Things got back to normal later in the process, though, as the Pats dealt down to stock up on more picks and then took a flier on a player with an unusual background.

In the sixth round they took Ohio State safety Nate Ebner, a walk-on who played all of three plays from scrimmage in his college football career. Ebner played a lot of special teams, but his real athletic interest was rugby. Ebner starred on teams in high school and harbored notions of a career as a professional rugby player before deciding to try his hand at football. He ran well at the Buckeyes Pro Day and caught Belichick’s eye.

“We think he has a lot of good football in front of him,” Belichick said, via the Providence Journal. “Of course, we had good connections at Ohio State. Obviously, that played a part in it.”

That connection is former Patriot Mike Vrabel, who was an assistant coach at his alma mater last season. His recommendation helped Ebner land in New England as one of the unlikeliest picks in this or any draft.

As mentioned up top, there’s a precedent for this in New England. They’ve drafted special teamers like Matthew Slater in the past and this isn’t their first time taking a chance on an athlete from another sport. Stephen Neal was a wrestler in college, but the Patriots gave him a shot as an undrafted free agent in 2001 anyway. He got cut, went to the Eagles for a spell and then returned to the Patriots in time to pick up three Super Bowl rings while starting 81 games at guard over 10 seasons.

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