Moving along with our positional review, we’ll examine a spot that the Patriots had good depth at in 2012, defensive end.
Key Statistics: Ninkovich: 8 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 83 percent of snaps played; Jones: 6 sacks, 67 percent of snaps played.
Overview: It was sort of a tale of two seasons for Patriots defensive ends, as the group started out very strong on the whole before having a less productive finish. Jones raced out to 6 sacks in his first eight games, but failed to register another the rest of the way. Cunningham had 2.5 sacks before being suspended in December and played a minor role upon his return. Ninkovich was the most consistent performer, finishing with 10 total sacks (including the postseason), and becoming a difference-maker. The Patriots were exceptional at forcing turnovers this season, and Ninkovich seemed to find his way around the ball in critical situations. But nonetheless, the defensive end group lacked a dynamic pass rusher that could get to the quarterback consistently when the team rushed just four players after Jones suffered a pair of ankle injuries. Jones’ ceiling remains high, and he should improve this offseason with a full slate of workouts, team activities and training camp to build from. Francis filled in as a late rookie surprise, and had 3 sacks in Week 17. He looks like an undrafted keeper for the team going forward.
2013 Personnel Preview: Scott is the only free agent of the group above, and the team is likely counting on Jones, Francis, Cunningham and Bequette to make strides as they develop in the early portions of their careers. Bequette was seldom used in 2012, but the year to learn may pay off in a busier sophomore season.