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Patriots Get Longer on the Defensive Line, Rob Ninkovich Can't Touch This

The Patriots have worked to improve their defensive line by making them bigger. It's working.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots edge defender Rob Ninkovich is all alone on the roster.

Maybe Ernie Adams pointed out something he saw in the numbers. Maybe Bill Belichick just made a schematic adjustment. Whatever the reason, Ninkovich is the black sheep with stubby arms.

Okay, that's a little mean, but relatively speaking it's totally true. Of the defensive linemen on the Patriots roster with data available (so no Joe Vellano, Casey Walker, or A.J. Pataiali'i), Ninkovich is the proud owner of the shortest arm length, especially when looking at edge defenders (list in inches).

Name Arm Ht
Jones, Chandler 35.5 77.4
Siliga, Sealver 34.5 73.8
Flowers, Trey 34.3 74.1
Branch, Alan 34.1 78.0
Johnson, Antonio 33.8 75.0
Johnson, Rufus 33.8 77.3
Moore, Zach 33.8 77.5
Dickson, Xzavier 33.5 75.5
Sheard, Jabaal 33.5 74.9
Grissom, Geneo 33.4 75.4
Easley, Dominique 32.9 74.0
Jones, Chris 32.8 73.6
Brown, Malcom 32.5 74.4
Wilfork, Vince 32.0 73.3
Ninkovich, Rob 31.5 75.1

You'll note that I added former Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork for good measure. Ninkovich's arms are an inch shorter than the next closest player- rookie Malcom Brown- and nearly two inches shorter than the nearest edge defender- rookie Geneo Grissom.

Ninkovich's arms are more commonly found on people under 6-feet tall, not on 6'3 edge defenders. In fact, the only notable player drafted with arms shorter than 31.5 inches was the 49ers linebacker Chris Borland who retired this offseason. Coincidentally, the 49ers are one of the teams championing a longer defensive front.

"I like long arms," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said back in 2014. "Length's important. It's important in any sport."

Baalke and the 49ers, during their run of success from 2011-2013, made a point of selecting these lengthy prospects.

"If you're a 32-arm-length guy, you don't make [shoestring] tackles," Baalke said after the team selected edge defender Aldon Smith in 2011, according to the Sacramento Bee. "If you're a 36, you make them."

While the Patriots don't operate under the same strict "34-inch arm" operation that the 49ers followed for defensive linemen, the principle is the same: length is important on the defensive line because players with longer arms can make plays that those with shorter arms cannot.

Bill Belichick spoke at length about how leverage is important for lineman and that fourth round pick Trey Flowers and his massive arm span provide unique potential. What's unsaid is how these players and their arm spans are actively selected, and how Ninkovich remains unique.

Of the defensive lineman on the roster, only Ninkovich has arms that are notably shorter than expected.

On the flip side, Flowers, Sealver Siliga, and Chandler Jones all have arms that greatly exceed the expected length. While the 6'2 Flowers' arms are more commonly found on players that are 6'6, the 6'2 Siliga has arms more commonly found on 6'7 players, and the 6'5 Jones has a reach better associated with players that stand at a whopping 6'9.

When you look across the depth chart, all of the arm lengths of interior defenders are fit for players that are 6'2 or taller, while all edge defenders, other than Ninkovich, have arms fit for players 6'4 of taller.

All the numbers point to what we've already learned this offseason: the Patriots have been beefing up their defensive line.