Snaps: Final look at '12 on defense

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
11:10
AM ET
When assessing a player’s value, teams can sometimes turn to playing-time statistics. The more valuable the player, the more he plays.

With this in mind, the following is a breakdown of playing time for Patriots defenders in 2012 (penalties included, no kneel-downs, small margin for error, charted by ESPNBoston.com.)

Defensive end
Rob Ninkovich – 923 of 1,112 – 83.0 percent
Chandler Jones – 746 of 1,112 – 67.1 percent
Jermaine Cunningham – 446 of 1,112 – 40.1 percent
Trevor Scott – 252 of 1,112 – 22.7 percent
Justin Francis – 193 of 1,112 – 17.4 percent
Jake Bequette – 29 of 1,112 – 2.6 percent

Quick hits: Ninkovich is a good example of how the Patriots find “value” in the marketplace. When the team signed Ninkovich to a two-year, $4 million extension in September of 2011, Ninkovich was at a 47-percent playing time clip as a first- and second-down 3-4 outside linebacker. But the Patriots projected his role would grow in their system – partly a credit to the team’s coaching/system, partly a credit to Ninkovich himself -- and he’s since become a solid three-down player who led the team in sacks (8) and forced fumbles (5) in 2012. Let's not forget that when the Patriots initially signed Ninkovich in 2009, he had just been cut as a long snapper with the Saints. … Jones was at a 90-percent playing time clip before injuring his ankle Nov. 18 against the Colts and missing the next 11 quarters. … Cunningham is the top backup and found a niche this year as an interior sub rusher. His playing time would have been closer to 50 percent if not for a four-game NFL suspension. … Francis has been a late riser, playing 38 snaps over the first 10 games of the season before amassing 155 over the final six games.

Defensive tackle
Vince Wilfork – 904 of 1,112 – 81.3 percent
Kyle Love – 549 of 1,112 – 49.4 percent
Brandon Deaderick – 378 of 1,112 – 34.0 percent
Ron Brace – 92 of 1,112 – 8.3 percent
Terrell McClain – 16 of 1,112 – 1.4 percent
Marcus Forston – 8 of 1,112 – less than 1 percent

Quick hits: The Patriots’ shift to more of a pure 4-3 this season thinned the number of “big” linemen on the roster. Wilfork’s playing time progression from 2009-2012 looks like this: 51.8 percent, 69.8 percent, 86.8 percent, 81.3 percent. Bringing his numbers down slightly this season was a reflection of the Patriots attempting to limit some of the wear and tear on arguably their most important defender. … Deaderick has been playing more snaps than Love over the last six games as the top option next to Wilfork. … This looks like an area the team will address in the offseason to add more depth.

Linebacker
Jerod Mayo – 1,066 of 1,112 – 95.9 percent
Brandon Spikes – 736 of 1,112 – 66.2 percent
Dont’a Hightower – 574 of 1,112 – 51.6 percent
Tracy White – 71 of 1,112 – 6.4 percent
Mike Rivera – 19 of 1,112 – 1.7 percent
Niko Koutouvides – 9 of 1,112 – less than 1 percent
Bobby Carpenter – 6 of 1,112 – less than 1 percent
Jeff Tarpinian – 6 of 1,112 – less than 1 percent

Quick hits: Losing Dane Fletcher to a torn ACL in the preseason thinned the depth here, as the Patriots made it through the year with basically three off-the-line linebackers. … Mayo, as he has been since being a first-round selection in 2008, is a “glue” player who seldom comes off the field. … Spikes took another step in his career progression this year, staying on the field in sub more, and also staying healthy (until the end of the season). That is reflected in his playing time progression from 2010-2012: 31.7 percent, 40.1 percent, 66.2 percent. … Hightower had a solid rookie season on which to build and should ultimately expand his duties into more three-down work. … Some more depth here could be an offseason focus.

Cornerback
Devin McCourty – 1,092 of 1,112 – 98.2 percent
Kyle Arrington – 838 of 1,112 – 75.4 percent
Alfonzo Dennard – 599 of 1,112 – 53.9 percent
Aqib Talib – 306 of 1,112 – 27.5 percent
Sterling Moore – 233 of 1,112 – 21.0 percent
Marquice Cole – 197 of 1,112 – 17.7 percent
Ras-I Dowling – 84 of 1,112 – 7.6 percent
Derrick Martin – 69 of 1,112 – 6.2 percent

Quick hits: McCourty split time between cornerback and safety, but since he played more games at cornerback, he is kept at this position for purposes of this breakdown. His long-term future, however, very well might be at safety. McCourty's high playing time total reflects the confidence the coaching staff has in him, which didn’t seem to be matched by public perception earlier in the year. … Dennard is positioned to be the No. 2 corner in 2013, while Talib would return as the No. 1 corner if he re-signs (he’s a free agent). Arrington is also a free agent, so this will be a position that needs to be looked at closely this offseason. … Dowling has been a disappointment and faces a crucial season in 2013 to get his NFL career on track.

Safety
Steve Gregory – 749 of 1,112 – 67.4 percent
Patrick Chung – 536 of 1,112 – 48.2 percent
Tavon Wilson – 473 of 1,112 – 42.5 percent
Nate Ebner – 34 of 1,112 – 3.1 percent

Quick hits: McCourty helped out here and could find a long-term home at the position. But for purposes of this breakdown, he lands at the cornerback spot. … Gregory would have had a higher playing time percentage if not for missing four games with a hip injury in the first half of the season. The coaching staff seems to appreciate his smarts. One potential concern for the Patriots going forward is if a McCourty-Gregory pairing leaves them undersized at the position. … Chung enters free agency and given his struggles to break through into the starting lineup upon his return from injury in the second half of 2012, it might be a case where he looks for a fresh start. … Wilson, the second-round pick from Illinois, will be in the mix in 2013 after gaining some valuable experience as a rookie. The question is if he can break through as a starter. When everyone was healthy, his primary duties came as the dime back. … Ebner will be around for his special teams prowess. His future as a defender remains up in the air as he didn’t play a single defensive snap in the second half of 2012.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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