Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Injuries, injuries and injuries really hurt the New England Patriots defense as a unit last season. It was a trickle down effect, when you can’t stop anyone with your defensive tackles and you leading linebacker is hurt it really exposes the productive players you have left. The Patriots were though tied atop the league with the Kansas City Chiefs on defense in rushing yards per game, only allowing 88.0 per tilt. But once the playoffs hit, the Patriots were just unable to get to Peyton Manning en route to a loss. Let’s dive into the Patriots defensive end depth heading into the 2014 season.
LE) Rob Ninkovich
Ninkovich isn’t going to blow you away with his size, power or speed but he has great instinct and never takes plays off. Ninkovich is a play maker and always seems to find himself in the middle of sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, you name it. The one downside to Ninkovich is he hasn’t played to well in big games in his career. For example last season versus Denver, he only recorded two tackles and zero sacks in the Patriots loss. I do except Ninkovich to have a big season this year because adding a lock down corner will open up more sack opportunities.
My 2014 Rob Ninkovich Projection:
95(up 4) combined tackles, 10.5(up 2.5) sacks, 2(-) forced fumbles and 1(down 1) fumble recovery
Note: He will also be a Pro-Bowler
RE) Chandler Jones
This kid is big, strong, physical and lengthy. Jones is a very underrated defensive end and can get to the passer in a hurry. Jones hasn’t shown the ability to really be a big turnover machine but he has shown the ability to be able to really contain the other teams QB in the pocket. I expect big things out of Jones this season because he too will benefit from having a shut down secondary.
My 2014 Chandler Jones Projection:
83(up 4) combined tackles, 15.5(up 4) sacks, 2(up 1) forced fumbles and 2(up 1) fumble recoveries
Note: He will also be a Pro-Bowler
3) Will Smith
In my opinion the addition of Will Smith was one of the more underrated ones of the entire off season. Smith gives the Patriots an extra pass rusher, who they will be able to plug into the game when Jones and Ninkovich need breathers. Smith a former New Orleans Saints captain will flourish in his role with the Patriots. Age is getting up there for Smith but he won’t need to be relied on a ton. He gives the Patriots a nice third option at DE.
Smith did miss the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL and can play linebacker as well in 3-4 defenses.
My 2014 Will Smith Projection:
54 combined tackles, 5 sacks, 0 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery
Bequette did not record any stats for the Patriots last season and did not suit up for too many games. Bequette will be entering his third pro season and I think he is finally ready to show his speed rushing the quarterback.
My 2014 Jake Bequette Projection:
15(up 15) combined tackles, 1(up 1) sack, 0(-) forced fumbles and 0(-) fumble recoveries
Patriots 1st round, 22nd overall pick in this years draft. Easley can either play defensive tackle or end. With the Patriots surplus of defensive tackles, look for Easley to get a lot of plying time at DE this season. He is big and quick and can get after the quarterback.
My 2014 Dominique Easley Projection:
25 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery
Key losses at defensive end:
*Andre Carter: 2013 numbers 3 tackles, 2 pass deflections and 2 sacks
Defensive ends on current roster who need to fight for their spot:
Patriots DE Depth Chart Grade and Reason: A-
The Patriots heading into this season are very deep at defensive end. Adding Will Smith was huge. Any time you can add a former captain of a successful team who knows his role is a great pick-up. The Patriots ability to make the secondary into a real lock down one this off season will open up so many opportunities for the defensive ends to get to the quarterback and make plays. The reason it’s A- and not A is because the starters have not shown the ability to show up in big time games and that remains a question heading into the season.