Rob Ninkovich has a nose for the ball, whether it is making an interception (five with the Patriots), forcing fumbles (five this season) or recovering fumbles (four, a team high). Throw in a career-best eight sacks this season and 61 tackles (47 unassisted) and Ninkovich does seem to have a habit of being around the ball.
"I was taught at a young age to always be around the football because that is where things happen," Ninkovich said.
Ninkovich is a classic late bloomer, arriving in New England in 2009. Before then, he had appeared in only eight games over three seasons in two stints with the New Orleans Saints and one with the Miami Dolphins. The Saints even tried to make a long snapper out of Ninkovich before releasing him.
The Patriots swooped in almost immediately. In four years with New England, he has missed one game, playing defensive end and outside linebacker. Coach Bill Belichick credited Ninkovich's skill, adding, "He has good body control, good balance, good hand-eye coordination."
"He's a high motor guy; he's always running around the field to make those plays," defensive back Devin McCourty said.
The big difference in New England? Ninkovich actually got a chance to play -- and make plays.
"I think really with Rob it was just a matter of opportunity," said the Patriots' player personnel director, Nick Caserio.
NEW YORK TIMES