Next up in our New England Patriots free agent profile series: safety/special teamer Nate Ebner.  

New England could see significant turnover in its special teams units this offseason.

Nine Patriots players who play considerable snaps in the kicking game are set to hit free agency next month, including two of the NFL’s elite special teamers: Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner. (Also included in that list are punt returner Danny Amendola and kick returner Dion Lewis, both of whom are known more for their roles on offense.)

Like Slater, whom we covered earlier this week, Ebner lost a significant chunk of the 2017 season to injury. He sat out Weeks 1 and 2 with a shoulder injury before tearing his ACL in Week 12, landing him on injured reserve. He appeared in just nine regular-season games and missed the Patriots’ entire playoff run.

Ebner was plenty productive when he was on the field, though.

A second-team All-Pro in 2016 (Slater beat him by one vote), the former rugby star tallied eight special teams tackles in his limited action, which was tops on the team at the time of his injury. He’s also served as the upback on New England’s punt team — which coach Bill Belichick calls “one of the toughest spots to play” — since 2013.

Let’s take a closer look at Ebner’s 2017 season and his chances of returning in 2018.

2017 stats: eight special teams tackles; one carry, 14 yards

Highlight of the season: Unfortunately for Ebner, his best play resulted in the end of his season. His torn ACL came on a successful fake punt during a win over the Miami Dolphins.

Chances of coming back: High. Ebner has been an excellent special teamer for Patriots team that places a huge emphasis on the kicking game, and he won’t cost much to retain, especially after his injury. His last contract, signed before the 2016 season, was a two-year deal worth $2.4 million.

Safety depth: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

Contingency plan: As we wrote in Slater’s free agent profile, it’s easier to replace players on special teams than it is on offense or defense. But he and Ebner are two of the best in the league at what they do, so expect to see them back next season.

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