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New England Patriots 2017 roster breakdown: #43 SS Nate Ebner

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Super Bowl champion, Olympian, special teams standout... and roster lock.

With opening day still three months away and the mandatory portion of the initial wave of offseason workouts over, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.

During workouts and studying sessions, players still have a chance to lay the foundation for their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.

Today, we will continue the series with one of New England’s premier special teamers.

Name: Nate Ebner

Position: Strong safety / Special teamer

Jersey number: 43

Opening day age: 28

Experience: 5

Size: 6’0, 220 lbs.

2016 review: While his Patriots teammates were preparing for the upcoming season, Nate Ebner was in Rio de Janeiro representing his country in the 2016 Summer Olympics. But despite missing training camp practice time due to his spot on the U.S. rugby sevens, Ebner played another highly successful season once back in New England.

As has been the case over the course of his entire five-year NFL career, Ebner was a core special teamer for the Patriots. Listed as a defensive back, he played a mere 18 defensive snaps throughout the season and finished without any statistics. But while his defensive contributions were only marginal, Ebner was once again one of the premier special teamers on the Patriots – and in the NFL.

The Ohio State product appeared in all 16 of New England’s regular season games and finished the season as one of the team’s most productive kicking game performers. As member of all four special teams units, Ebner played a team-high 360 snaps (of 449; 80.2%). As a gunner on both the punt and kickoff coverage units, he finished first on the team with 19 tackles and also added one forced fumble and one recovery.

Ebner also was a core member of the Patriots’ blocking units. Typically serving as personal punt protector, he helped give punter Ryan Allen space and time: New England had no punts blocked throughout the season as the unit was able to finish with a net differential of +1.9 yards per punt return. Ebner also served as a front-line blocker on the kickoff unit. While it did not have the same success (finishing with a -0.6 yard net average), Ebner was his usual stellar self.

Following the regular season, Ebner also appeared in all three of the Patriots’ postseason games. While his playing time decreased a little compared to the regular season, he still played two-thirds of all kicking game snaps: 63 of 93 (67.7%). The veteran also registered three takedowns while helping his team win a world championship – the second of Ebner’s unique career.

2017 preview: As opposed to last offseason, Nate Ebner is not trying to and ultimately competing in the Olympic Games. Instead, he will spend the entirety of training camp with his teammates preparing to defend a Super Bowl title. And given his team-friendly contract ($1.2 million cap hit; 31st highest on the team) and past contributions, his role during this endeavor already seems clearly defined.

The 28-year old will once again serve as one of the most heavily used special teamers in all of pro football. He will see extensive playing time on all four special teams units and once again finish among the group’s statistical leaders in snaps and tackles. And even though his contributions on defense are projected to remain quasi-non-existent, Ebner’s role as a core special teamer makes him a lock to be on New England’s 53-man roster.

What is not certain, at least as of today, is if Ebner will stay in Foxboro beyond the 2017 season. After all, he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the year. However, he appears to be a prime candidate to receive a contract extension in the upcoming months.