It took a long time – more than three hours, to be precise – for the Patriots to get back on the clock on Saturday. And no sooner did their turn to pick arrive then it vanished again, and the waiting game resumed.
New England traded its lone selection heading into the day (a fifth rounder, 163 overall) back to the team that gave it to them yesterday. To move back into that slot, the Green Bay Packers gave the Patriots their sixth round choice (197 overall) and two seventh-rounders (224 and 235 overall).
The Patriots finally made a selection around 5 p.m. Saturday, and it was another stunner. Nate Ebner (6-0, 205), a converted rugby star, played some defensive back as a walk-on Ohio State the past few seasons.
"Nate is a guy who's a big, fast safety … very productive in the kicking game," head coach Bill Belichick explained to the media at the end of the day. "Relatively inexperienced player. We think he has a lot of good football in front of him."
Belichick acknowledged that his "obvious" connections at Ohio State (former linebacker Mike Vrabel, who now coaches there) were a factor in selecting Ebner.
An hour later, New England went with another defensive back, one who was widely considered to be a Day 1 or 2 pick: Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard (5-10, 205). However, he had recent off-the-field issues (a run-in with the law) that tarnished his luster. The Patriots were able to get him in the seventh round at 224.
Belichick reportedly worked out Dennard personally on a March trip to Nebraska.
"Alfonzo is a guy we've spent a lot of time on. Obviously, the incident affected his draft position," conceded Belichick, "but, certainly, we've researched it as much as we could about it … as an organization, we're comfortable with it."
Belichick added that there are still legal issues surrounding Dennard, which he could not address as of Saturday evening.
The final pick of the draft for New England was Northwestern wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (5-11, 200), a speed demon (4.38) who has experience as a returner.
"Ebert's a guy we kind of got onto late," the coach concluded, "worked him out this past week. He's an impressive guy, does a lot of things well. We feel he's versatile and can compete at that position for us."
Belichick added that his staff was now focused on targeted a number of undrafted rookies to sign as free agents. Before the night was through, media reports were already circulating that at least three players had agreed to join the Patriots. Members of the 2012 rookie class will be at Gillette Stadium for their first mini-camp on May 11 and 12.