Patriots add three players

Last picks include two DBs, receiver

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 29, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots wrapped up their 2012 draft class Saturday, taking two more defensive players and an offensive player who projects as a slot receiver.

The day was not without a trade from New England, which found a new favorite draft-weekend trade partner in Green Bay. On Friday night, the Patriots traded a second second-round pick, 62d overall, to the Packers and received third- and fifth-round picks (90th and 163d) in return.

On Saturday, when the Patriots were on the clock at No. 163 for what at the time was their only pick of the day, they traded the selection back to Green Bay. This time, they got one sixth and two seventh-round picks, Nos. 197, 224, and 235 overall.

And with those picks they selected defensive back Nate Ebner of Ohio State, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard of Nebraska, and receiver Jeremy Ebert of Northwestern.

All told, New England drafted seven players, six on the defensive side of the ball. At this early juncture, first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, and third-rounder Jake Bequette would be the most likely choices to be big contributors this fall.

Of Saturday’s trio, Dennard is the most promising, provided he can put recent problems behind him. The 5-foot-10-inch, 205-pounder was the Big Ten’s defensive back of the year last season. He is just the type of low-risk, high-reward player the Patriots gravitate toward in lower rounds. In pre-draft evaluations, he was slated to be a mid-round pick at worst, an NFL-ready corner.

But Dennard was booted from the Capital One Bowl for punching South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery, and then committed what can only be described as a boneheaded move early April 21, just days before the draft, when he was arrested outside a Lincoln, Neb., bar.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, Dennard was involved in two arguments outside the Hour Lounge, and officers observed him bump into a man and punch him in the chest. Police told Dennard twice to leave the area, and when he did not they attempted to take him into custody.

Dennard pushed and punched one officer, who suffered a small cut to his jaw, and was taken to the ground. Police said it took four officers to restrain him.

Last Monday, Dennard was released after posting bond, and is due back in court May 15 on the charge of third-degree assault on an officer.

The selection of Ebner is reminiscent of the Patriots’ decision to draft Malcolm Williams out of Texas Christian last year - both little-used defensive backs and strong special teams players.

Ebner was a stellar rugby player in his teens, playing for the Under-19 and Under-20 national teams, and was named MVP of the Rugby World Cup in 2007 and ’08. Unable to play professional rugby and attend college at the same time, he decided to walk on to the Buckeyes football team despite never playing a down in high school.

By his senior year, he’d earned a scholarship and was a special teams ace. But he still wasn’t on many teams’ radars until Ohio State’s pro day, when he left a positive impression. Ebner talked to some teams and just wanted a chance to prove himself as an undrafted player.

So, the call from New England was a surprise.

“I didn’t want to expect anything and I didn’t want to get overly excited and I hoped I would get a chance to be on a team, and especially the Patriots,’’ Ebner said. “Words can’t describe how excited I am to be part of this organization, and you know, the fact that I got drafted, it makes me so happy and my family’s happy, and I’m just so excited about the opportunity. I’m really at a loss about the whole thing.’’

Ebner loves kickoff coverage, calling it a rush, and joked that he might “have a screw loose’’ for being so enamored with the plays he called “mayhem’’ and “crazy.’’

But he doesn’t believe that excelling at rugby translates to the football field.

“I get that question a lot and I never know how to answer it,’’ he said. “It compares in the fact that we hit each other and there’s a lot of running and some big dudes . . . I’d just say the speed of the game and the tackling are similar. They’re very different sports.’’

Ebner raved about former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, now a coach at Ohio State, and said he had a huge impact on him in just one year.

“I can’t say enough about coach Mike Vrabel. Obviously, what he did as a player, but even as a coach I learned so much from him. That’s not even to say the type of person he is. What an amazing guy,’’ Ebner said. “I can’t thank him enough for the help he’s given me.’’

Ebner’s father was killed during a robbery attempt at his auto-salvage business when Ebner was in high school.

The loss was “devastating,’’ according to Ebner, but he tried to draw strength from it.

Ebert, listed at 6 feet, pounds, was Northwestern’s leading receiver last season with 75 catches for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns. As a former high school quarterback and potential NFL slot receiver, he seems like a faster version of Julian Edelman.

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