Patriots positional review: defensive ends

Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots defensive ends:

Chandler Jones

Age: 23

2013 status: Played and started every game this season, totaling 79 tackles and 11.5 sacks.

2013 highlights: Blossomed as a second-year player, making the leap after a promising rookie season. Led the Patriots with 11.5 sacks and had dominant stretches. Was an every-down player who logged an astonishing 98.1 percent of the defensive snaps. Looks like a cornerstone along the line for years to come.

Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Rob Ninkovich

Age: 29

2013 status: Played and started every game this season, racking up 91 tackles and eight sacks.

2013 highlights: Was part of a bookend pair of ends with Jones that anchored the edges for the Patriots. The team’s belief and commitment in Ninkovich was cemented with a contract extension early in the season that keeps him in New England through 2016. One of the team’s most consistent players. Exceptional in run defense, tough and a leader who was named a team captain after injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.

Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Andre Carter

Age: 34

2013 status: Played nine games without a start. Third among defensive ends with 13.4 percent of defensive snaps played.

2013 highlights: Carter was brought back after a year away, as he spent the 2012 season with the Oakland Raiders. He chipped in two sacks but was an emotional leader in the locker room. Carter played mostly in sub packages and has indicated that he’ll only continue his NFL career if it is with the Patriots.

Current contract runs through: Free agent

Michael Buchanan

Age: 23

2013 status: Played in all but one regular-season game, logging 121 defensive snaps.

2013 highlights: A seventh-round pick that had a larger defensive role early in the season, Buchanan showed some flashes of pass-rushing presence. His role was eventually shifted to almost exclusively special teams, where he played on core units. Given the lack of depth at this position, Buchanan’s development is critical for 2014.

Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Jake Bequette

Age: 24

2013 status: Played just 1.2 percent of the defensive snaps. Has appeared in eight games over two pro seasons.

2013 highlights: Hardly a factor on defense or special teams. Bequette was drafted in the third round in 2012 but it isn’t too soon to wonder whether or not he’ll be on the roster again next season. He needs a strong offseason of growth to ensure his future.

Current contract runs through: 2015 season

POSITIONAL NEED: Around this time last year, one of the positions that we believed the Patriots may address during the offseason was their depth at defensive end. The team courted both John Abraham and Dwight Freeney in free agency, but neither veteran was signed. Marcus Benard flashed during offseason workouts but was eventually waived, as was former second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham. While the team has its rock-solid duo in Jones and Ninkovich as starters, depth remains an area of need. A veteran with pass-rushing juice to play in a situation role -- similar to what Carter did this season -- would be a big boost.