By Aaron Jackson
With Rob Ninkovich’s last minute retirement, the Patriots have a bit of a void in their defensive line when it comes to pass rushers and just all around smart players. In my mind this was already a point of weakness for New England, if in fact they have one. Especially with Kony Ealy new to the team and already possibly having issues with Coach Belichick. Here are five guys who can fill that void.
- Dwight Freeney: Replace one aging veteran with another. That’s about where this comparison ends. Freeney is a player that over his career has been about flash, while Ninkovich made a career of being in the right place at the right time. Freeney seemed to still have something left in the tank during the Super Bowl, but in the regular season he played in just11 games, totaled 7 tackles (Nink had 17), 3 of which were sacks. Freeney could help in getting to the quarterback, but don’t expect him to bring much else to the table.
- Mario Williams: The former #1 overall pick has had some incredibly productive seasons, and has made a lot of money in the process. Last year in Miami, Williams had his worst season as a pro, but is just two years removed from 3 consecutive 10 plus sack seasons. Players fall off a cliff all the time in the NFL, but in a limited role he could still be an impact player.
- Derek Rivers: The rookie feels like he has some big expectations as the Patriots first pick in this past year’s draft, but he was a third round pick so they should be tempered quite a bit. I’d love to think this guy could come in and be everything Ninkovich was at a faster speed, but so much of what Ninkovich did was positioning and the mental side of the game. It’s naive to think Rivers could do that his first year in the league.
- Trade Market: You don’t typically see trades this time of year, but the Patriots have never been a typical front office. Belichick has been great over the years at picking up defensive linemen that are undervalued on other teams. Don’t be shocked to see that happen again this time.
- Shea McClellin: A similar size to Ninkovich, McClellin has played some defensive end in the past, and to me seems more like Ninkovich than anyone else on this list. McClellin’s never been a big time pass rusher, with a career best 4 sacks in his second year in the league with the Bears, but the Patriots have done a great job over the years finding guys to have career years on the defensive line. This to me is the best fit.
Aaron Jackson (@AaronRJackson on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.