(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2012.)
NAME: Nate Ebner
2011 STATS: 12 games (no starts), 11 total tackles, 1 sack -- with Ohio State
INJURY STATUS: No known injuries
CHANCE OF MAKING 53-MAN ROSTER: 65%
WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: A sixth-round pick despite only playing three defensive snaps for Ohio State last season, Ebner's potential on special teams could give him the edge over more known quantities such as Josh Barrett or Sergio Brown. After missing rookie minicamp with an undisclosed injury, Ebner was part of the top kickoff return unit during organized team activities this spring. If he can also carve out roles on the punt, punt return, and kickoff coverage units, then Ebner will be on the fast track to having a roster spot this fall.
WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: While Ebner is considered a hard-nosed player with potential to be a special teams ace, he has very little experience playing on defense. When he returned to practice during organized team activities, Ebner stood behind the play with safeties coach Brian Flores, who will likely take on an important role of teaching Ebner the safety position. If this process is slower than anticipated, and Ebner has trouble emerging as one of the team's better special teams players during the preseason, then the Patriots may try to pass Ebner through waivers onto their practice squad.
CLOSEST COMPETITION: S James Ihedigbo, S Josh Barrett, S Sergio Brown