Chandler Jones led all defensive ends in regular season snaps with 1,142, or 97.9% of 1,166 possible snaps.
Rob Ninkovich was second with 1,114, or 95.5% of possible snaps.
Andre Carter and Michael Buchanan (okay, and 14 snaps of Jake Bequette) combined for 293 snaps, or 25.1% of possible snaps.
We know that third defensive end is a tremendous need, if not in case of injury, then to give Jones and Ninkovich more time to recover on the sidelines.
So I got to wondering how the Patriots compared to the rest of the league. Using numbers from Pro Football Focus, I was able to provide a very basic breakdown between teams that operate out of the 4-3 defensive front, and how they distribute snaps to their defensive ends.
Note that this is only a quick and dirty evaluation. It does not distinguish between subpackages with multiple defensive ends on the field. In fact, it reduces the imbalance of these violators as additional ends will alter the starter snap ratio.
Using this metric, it turns out the Patriots weren't even the worst offenders of uneven snap distribution. They were the second worst with 88.5% of their defensive snaps attributed to their starters - and that was due to using packages more heavily reliant on a third defensive end (even more reason to fight for a DE3).
Leading the charge were the Oakland Raiders, who allotted 89.6% of their snaps at defensive end to the starters Lamarr Houston (1,049 snaps and 4th most of defensive ends, 94.9%) and Jason Hunter. However, PFF only has the Raiders down for 1,878 snaps at defensive end; the Patriots had 2,549 snaps- a difference of 671 that is greater than the snaps by Hunter (633).
So the Patriots have a larger workload than their comparisons and they are more top heavy. Beyond the Raiders and the Patriots, no other 4-3 team exceeded 75% of snaps for their starters (Vikings, 74.3%). Here's a full list:
A lot of the top pass rushing units in the league float around the 70% mark, while the reigning champion Seahawks had such a strong rotation that they had four players between 488 and 617 snaps.
If the Patriots reduced Ninkovich's and Jones' snaps down to 80%- still more than players like Robert Quinn (78.1%), Cameron Wake (63.3%), Michael Bennett (59.6%), DeMarcus Ware (69.1%) and Justin Tuck (77.1%)- that would have left them playing 933 snaps, or roughly 400 snaps that would have to be replaced.
Add those 400 snaps to the 293 by Andrael Beqchanter, and we're looking at our third defensive end playing 693 snaps over the course of the season- exactly one snap fewer than the 694 that Cameron Wake played last season.
In the Patriots system, and especially in this passing league, I'm fighting for the third defensive end to be recognized like a starter, just as much as the nickelback (who saw roughly 687 snaps for the Patriots last season). The snap count shows the need. The ratios show a need. The results show a need.
These are just some more numbers to point out one of the Patriots biggest needs in the draft.