Projecting WR Jeremy Ebert's potential role

New England Patriots seventh-round draft choice Jeremy Ebert chose to attend Northwestern not only to play football for the Wildcats, but also to receive a quality education at one of the country's esteemed universities.

Northwestern operates under a quarters academic system, which extends the school year until the beginning part of June, and graduation will not be held until the middle of this month. That precludes Ebert from attending OTAs, and also means he'll miss the Patriots' June 12-14 minicamp.

And while some might say the absences will only steepen the challenge for the unheralded prospect to have a sustained career in the NFL, the Patriots' newest No. 80 is used to overcoming long odds, as chronicled in a recent feature from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Here in New England, much remains unknown about Ebert, other than what we have been able to gather from various scouting reports and limited film exposure from his college career. The wrap on Ebert is he is a speedy, dependable slot receiver with good hands and the ability to return kicks.

The Patriots have no shortage of receivers, with 11 currently on the roster, including established veterans who figure to play prominent roles in 2012. But as contracts currently stand, the Patriots have just two receivers under the age of 25 (Ebert and undrafted free agent Matt Roark) signed beyond the 2012 season.

The team has an obvious decision to make on the long-term future of star slot man Wes Welker, as well as utility player Julian Edelman, whose contract expires after this season as well.

It's possible that Ebert's play in 2012 could impact the Patriots' approach to Edelman's future, and perhaps (although it seems less likely) Welker's as well.

Regardless of what happens to those around him going forward, New England would seem to be a solid fit for Ebert, given the team's ability to develop players and find roles, as well as its penchant for landing long-term contributors in the latter part of the draft.

The role of slot receiver is filled by Welker, but Ebert may have an opportunity to earn a spot as a returner, as the Patriots ranked low returning kickoffs in 2011 (more on this from Mike Rodak). He impressed with his sub-4.4 speed during his pro day, and may help boost an area that the team could stand to improve in.

It's no given that Ebert will stick around on the active roster this season, and although it's still early, he could become a candidate for the practice squad. That would allow him an opportunity to further develop and work with the veterans around him.

We likely won't learn much more about Ebert until training camp (when he'll next work out on the field with his teammates), but it's appears as though the player who has always been told he's not ready to overcome the odds has landed in a spot where he'll have a chance to do so once again.