Robert Michael Ninkovich (born February 1, 1984) is a retired American football outside linebacker who played eleven seasons in National Football League (NFL). He was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He played college football at Purdue as a defensive end. He also played for the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, winning two Super Bowls with the latter. After eight seasons with the Patriots, Ninkovich announced his retirement from the NFL.
Rob Ninkovich was born in Blue Island, Illinois to a family of Serbian origin. Following seventh grade, Rob's family relocated to New Lenox, Illinois. He attended Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort his freshman and sophomore year then attended Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox his junior and senior years. There, he played defensive end, tight end, and fullback. Ninkovich earned All-State honors for defensive end during his senior year. He also lettered in baseball.
Joliet Junior College
Following high school, Ninkovich spent two years at Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Illinois. As a freshman, he recorded 36 tackles and seven sacks as his team won the NJCAA national championship.
During the summer prior to his sophomore year, Ninkovich worked with his father, an ironworker, hanging beams on a Chicago construction site 19 stories high. According to his father, the purpose was to give Rob extra incentive to complete his college education.
As a sophomore at Joliet in 2003, Ninkovich earned third-team NJCAA All-America honors after recording 95 tackles (68 solo), five forced fumbles, four fumbles recovered, and a school-record 16 sacks.
Ninkovich transferred to Purdue in 2004 and played in all 12 games that season. Despite being a reserve, Ninkovich was tied for the team lead and ranked second in the Big Ten with eight sacks. In an October 2 contest against Notre Dame, Ninkovich recorded two sacks on defense and also caught a goal-line touchdown pass from Kyle Orton. Against Indiana on November 20, he tied a school record with four sacks.
As a senior in 2005, Ninkovich earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 48 tackles, eight sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. He recorded four sacks against Indiana for the second straight season, giving him two of the three individual four-sack performances in school history. In a 37–3 victory over Illinois, he caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Curtis Painter. Following the season, he was invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game.
New Orleans Saints
In a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys on August 21, Ninkovich recorded two sacks and two forced fumbles but was also flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty which led to a Cowboys touchdown. He finished the preseason with fifteen sacks. During the regular season, Ninkovich appeared in three games for the Saints as a reserve defensive end before suffering a knee injury in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons on September 25. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve on September 29, finishing the year with four tackles. During an afternoon practice on July 30, 2007, Ninkovich was carted off the field with a knee injury that caused him to miss the preseason. He was waived by the team prior to the regular season opener.
Ninkovich was claimed off waivers by the Miami Dolphins on September 7, 2007. He appeared in four games for the team that season as a reserve defensive end while being inactive for the other 12 games. Ninkovich finished the season with two tackles, recording one each against the New York Jets on September 23 and New York Giants on October 28.
Ninkovich, who converted to outside linebacker when the Dolphins switched to a 3–4 defense in 2008, tied Dolphins defensive end Randy Starks with a team-high two sacks during the 2008 preseason. He was released by the team on August 31 and re-signed to the practice squad on September 3.
On November 15, 2008, Ninkovich was promoted to the active roster. He played against the Oakland Raiders in a reserve role on November 16 but did not record any tackles. On November 20, he was released to make room for linebacker Erik Walden. Ninkovich was re-signed to the practice squad the following day.
Second stint with the New Orleans Saints
The Saints signed Ninkovich off the Dolphins' practice squad by the New Orleans Saints on December 3, 2008. He was released on July 30, 2009 after the Saints signed long snapper Jason Kyle. Ninkovich had previously been considered as a long snapping option for the Saints in the offseason.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots signed Ninkovich to a one-year contract on August 2, 2009. He made the Patriots' 53-man roster and recorded his first NFL sack in Week 5 against the Denver Broncos. He received a contract extension through the 2011 season on November 6, 2009. Overall, he played in 15 games for the Patriots in 2009, finishing with 23 tackles and one sack.
Ninkovich began the 2010 season as a starter at outside linebacker. In the team's Week 4 game against the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football, Ninkovich recorded his first career interception, and later in the game added another interception and a sack. He finished the season with a career-high 62 tackles, four sacks, and two interceptions in 16 games played (10 starts).
During the 2011 NFL season, Ninkovich recorded his first NFL touchdown when he intercepted a pass from New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and returned it 12 yards for the touchdown. He also had another interception earlier in the same game when he caught a pass tipped by Jerod Mayo. Ninkovich had the best statistical season of his career, recording 74 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 2 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown), 1 forced fumble, and 3 recovered fumbles while starting all 16 regular-season games. During the Patriots' 2011–2012 playoff run, Ninkovich recorded 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for a loss, and 2 quarterback hits against the Broncos during the Divisional Playoff game. Ninkovich also recorded seven tackles against the Ravens during the second round Conference Championship Game. On February 5, 2012, Ninkovich played in Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianaoplis, IN, but the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the Giants, 21-17. Ninkovich recorded 4 tackles (3 solo), 0.5 sacks, and 2 quarterback hits in the game.
During the 2012 offseason, Ninkovich moved to defensive end; his replacement at outside linebacker was Patriots rookie Dont'a Hightower. Ninkovich, starting opposite rookie Chandler Jones, led the team with 8 sacks and netted 58 tackles. He also forced 5 fumbles, including 2 in a game against the Denver Broncos and a game-ending overtime strip sack against the Jets. In 2012, he started every game, and had 8 sacks, 1 pass defended, 5 forced fumbles, and 4 fumble recoveries on 58 tackles.
In Week 3 of the 2013 season, Ninkovich signed a three-year contract extension, running through 2016, that included $8.5 million in bonuses and guaranteed money and totaled $15 million over its course. In 2013, he started every game, recording 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries on 91 total tackles.
Ninkovich set a single-game career high with three sacks in the Patriots Week 6 game against the Buffalo Bills, in Week 8 Ninkovich recovered a Jay Cutler fumble for his second career touchdown. Ninkovich led the Patriots with eight sacks, his third straight year with eight sacks. In the Patriots' 28–24 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, Ninkovich sacked Russell Wilson once and recorded six tackles.
Ninkovich started all 16 games for the Patriots in the 2015 season, recording 52 tackles and 6.5 sacks.
Ninkovich tore his triceps in training camp and was expected to miss a few weeks. On September 2, 2016, Ninkovich was suspended for four games after testing positive for a banned substance.
On September 5, 2016, the Patriots signed Ninkovich to a one-year contract extension through the 2017 season.
On February 5, 2017, Ninkovich was part of the Patriots team that won Super Bowl LI. In the game, he had two assisted tackles as the Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 34–28 in overtime. In a postgame interview with WBZ Sports, Ninkovich claimed the Patriots "broke down" in the locker room at halftime, resolving afterwards to play "one heck of a 30-minute half." The Patriots trailed 28–3 in the third quarter, but rallied all the way back to win the game 34-28 against the Atlanta Falcons. The game was the first to go to overtime, and the Patriots made the largest comeback in Super Bowl history.
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