BOSTON (CBS) — With the surprising retirement of the ever-reliable Rob Ninkovich, the Patriots are in need of a versatile player along the front seven. Ninkovich spent time at both defensive end and outside linebacker in different defensive schemes throughout his eight seasons with the Patriots.
Although not a household name, Ninkovich did his job and rarely made mistakes. Ninkovich came up with several turnovers and sacks in key spots, and will be tough to replace.
Here are some potential in-house replacements for Ninkovich’s production:
Perhaps one of the more underrated pick-ups of the offseason was signing defensive lineman Lawrence Guy away from the Baltimore Ravens on a four-year, $20 million contract.
Guy is a bigger player (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) that can move along the defensive line as either defensive tackle or defensive end. With his size, he can be a tremendous asset in base-set formations on early downs (he started 10 games in 2016) and those base formation snaps could come with the absence of Ninkovich.
Wise, the Patriots third draft pick of 2017 could be in line to see playing time following Ninkovich’s retirement. Although best suited in a 3-4 defense (According to his NFL.com draft profile) , with his size (6-foot-5, 274 pounds) and arm length (35 inches) Wise could be useful in both three-man and four-man fronts.
With Kony Ealy brought in as more of a traditional defensive end, it’s likely he might take Chris Long’s spot opposite Trey Flowers. This means Wise (possibly along with Derek Rivers) could be first in line to see time after them, with some time as an edge defender.
According to Phil Perry of CSNNE, Ninkovich told Wise and the rest of the young defensive ends that he’d always be there to help.
“He’s been tremendous, man,” Wise said. “Ever since my first day here, he’s been talking to me about little things, whether it was about recovery, the ice tub after practice, stretching, how to do weight room stuff. He’s kinda been like an older brother in a sense in the locker room.
Like Ninkovich, Langi is versatile, and could see time at both defensive end and linebacker. With Ninkovich’s retirement, Langi may make the roster on that alone, which would be the true meaning of a replacement.
Langi (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) is similar in size to Ninkovich (6-foot-2, 260 pounds), which is another reason he could be used the same way. With Ninkovich spending time at both linebacker and defensive end, Langi may be the best fit in terms of that wide array of skills.