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Deciphering the Patriots Defensive Snap Counts

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Which Patriots defenders are most likely to see the field?

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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The New England Patriots are trying to rotate at every position they can to help build up experience and to catch opposing defenses off guard.

On offense, the only players that are on the field for as long as possible are the stars (Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman) and the person responsible for snapping the ball on every play (David Andrews).

The other four offensive linemen rotate. The running backs rotate. The other two skill players change based upon the play call.

On defense, there are more players that try to stay on the field. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich play most snaps. Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower don't leave the field. Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler are always available.

If it weren't for injuries, the Patriots #2 cornerback would likely always stay on the field, too.

Safety Patrick Chung and edge defender Jabaal Sheard have played roughly 70% of the defensive snaps and could be considered close to being an every snap player.

We can actually use all of the player snaps to determine how often each player is on the field and how the Patriots coaching staff has decided to employ their defensive talent- and it throws a question mark into the utility of newly acquired defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.

Position % Snaps # Players
Cornerback 24.1% 2.65
Edge Defender 22.2% 2.44
Safety 21.1% 2.32
Linebacker 19.1% 2.10
Defensive Tackle 13.5% 1.49

It turns out that there's no positional group with more snaps than cornerback. Of course, curiously enough, the cornerbacks and safeties combine to offer five players on the field on average. This isn't to say that the Patriots are always in the nickel defense, but that the Patriots rely heavily on their secondary to always be available- and that the deployment of second round pick safety Jordan Richards, who also worked as a slot cornerback in college, could become close to a full time job.

The defensive line offers an interesting mix because the team has three primary edge defenders (Jones, Ninkovich, Sheard) and all three could ultimately average 80% of the total defensive snaps at the end of the season. There's room for all!

Linebacker is fairly simple as Collins and Hightower are always on the field, but it shows how limited snap opportunities are for Jerod Mayo to see the field. It's just not viable to have three linebackers on the field.

The defensive tackle position is probably the most unique because it consists of a clear rotation and no defined starter, even though the defense averages 1.5 defensive tackles at any given time. Sealver Siliga and Dominique Easley are expected to be on the field for roughly 45% of the snaps, while Malcom Brown and Alan Branch play a lean 30% of the snaps.

And now the Patriots have Hicks in the house. He will help as a run defender, but the Patriots don't really have many defensive tackle snaps to spare unless he takes over for Brown and/or Branch. The idea of what Hicks brings to the team is easier to understand than the implementation.

In the end, the Patriots have eight effective starters on defense, one rotational spot for the defensive tackles, and then two extra spots on the field depending on the scheme and situation. If it's a run play, the Patriots could use a third safety at one spot and a second defensive tackle or third linebacker at the other. If it's a passing play, look for a third cornerback and a third edge rusher, with Chandler Jones kicking to the inside.

It's a pretty simple line-up that offers tremendous versatility based upon a rotation at just three places.