Patriots: 10 long-term positives from 2015

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Rob Ninkovich Patriots
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4. Star power and depth at defensive end

First and foremost, Chandler Jones must be given a nod here. Jones ranked fifth in the NFL with 12.5 sacks, the highest total of any Patriots’ defender since Mike Vrabel racked up that same amount in 2007. Unfortunately, Jones had his quietest game in the AFC Championship Game, barely even getting a glimpse of Peyton Manning. But he is certainly a star, someone who should contender for Defensive Player of the Year in 2016.

Right behind Jones with eight sacks on the season was Jabaal Sheard, who was one of the NFL’s quietest yet productive free agent signings of 2015. The Patriots were keen on Sheard in the 2011 NFL Draft, so you can bet that Bill Belichick is glad to have him on the roster for the foreseeable future.

Top 10 QBs in Patriots franchise history

And then there’s Mr. Durable himself, Rob Ninkovich. Amazingly, Nink hasn’t missed a game since the 2009. He produced 6.5 sacks this year.

As for depth, the Patriots are looking good with 2015 picks Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers coming up through the ranks. Grissom recorded his first career sack in Week 17, and Flowers played well in the preseason before going down with an injury that threw his rookie campaign off the tracks.

Next: 3. Ascendance of Amendola, Martin