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Position Analysis: Defensive end
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The good news for the Patriots is that both Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were able to suit up for all 16 games in 2013 and played more than 95 percent of the defensive snaps each. The bad news is they needed to.
Jones and Ninkovich were stalwarts for a defense that seemed to lose personnel at virtually every other position a year ago. While neither turned in an eye-popping season, they both were solid on and off the field. Jones led the team with 11.5 sacks and Ninkovich was second with 8. The heavy workload appeared to have an impact, though, especially on Jones, who recorded just 1 sack over his final five games.
Still, the Patriots bookend defensive ends were far from the problem in 2013 and project to remain as integral parts of the unit moving forward. The question is, can Bill Belichick find some help for them? With some interesting veteran names potentially becoming available (Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware?) the possibility exists to make a splash.
Belichick may need to because it doesn’t appear there is a significant pass rusher waiting in the wings. Veteran Andre Carter returned late in the season to provide depth but did little, finishing with 9 tackles and a pair of sacks in nine games. Rookie Michael Buchanon flashed potential after getting a leg up on 2012 third-round pick Jake Bequette, who remained a non-factor with 10 inactives to his credit last season. Buchanon had a couple of sacks but lost playing time when Carter arrived, and additional depth is needed at the position.
It wouldn’t appear to make sense to re-sign Carter, who will be a free agent next week. Buchanon will likely get an opportunity to make the proverbial Year 2 jump but Bequette may be in a fight for his roster life after two virtually invisible seasons. Clearly Belichick needs to find some talent to work into the rotation, if for no other reason than to lighten the load on Jones and Ninkovich. It would not be surprising to see at least one early draft pick used on an edge player.