Josh Uche is coming off his rookie year that was filled with injuries and little playing time. He had a measly nine total tackles and only one sack on the year. But when you look deeper into advanced metrics and watch his film, you see a potential star in the making.
After leading his team in sacks in both his junior and senior years, Josh Uche became a high-level NFL prospect. He combined for 65.5 quarterback pressures, 36 quarterback hurries, 14 quarterback hits, and 15.5 sacks all as a situational player. When you dig deeper into his metrics you see some elite-level numbers. Among all EDGE players that entered the 2020 NFL Draft, Josh Uche has the highest pass-rush win rate by four points at 27.1%.
Josh Uche’s versatility proved to be his weakness as Michigan struggled to find out how best to use him. They’d line him up as an EDGE and an off-ball linebacker to maximize the havoc he could wreak. The uncertainty of how to use him is what caused him to fall to the second round. Bill Belichick and the Patriots are known for using defenders in the best possible way to maximize their talent. It is a perfect fit for Uche.
In his rookie season, Josh Uche had two stints on injured reserve that held him to nine games and 178 snaps(17.5%). Uche made the most of his playing time and had the fifth most quarterback disruptions on the team. When you look at his base stats you’ll see that he only had nine tackles and one sack. He also accounted for nine quarterback hurries and seven quarterback hits.
If you look past the numbers, though, you see he graded very well. PFF gave Uche a 75.1 pass-rush grade and a 77.6 overall grade, both the second-highest marks among defensive rookies. His 77.6 overall grade puts him at 16th among all EDGE players. He also earned a 75.1 coverage grade which would rank as the ninth-best mark among inside linebackers.
The Patriots used Uche much like Michigan did, as an edge defender and an off-ball linebacker. The Patriots added several new linebackers to the mix but Uche’s role should stay the same at a much higher rate. Belichick runs a bevy of hybrid defenses including 5-1, 4-2, 4-3, 3-4, and 3-3 fronts. His versatility will allow him to play on the line in the first three formations while sliding back to inside linebacker in the latter formations.
The biggest question facing Uche entering his sophomore season is whether he can solidify himself as an every-down player or remain a situational player? Uche has to compete with Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Matt Judon. That is a big trio of linebackers to play over. Uche’s range of play should allow him to see consistent playing time. He can be moved all over the front seven and be used against the pass, the run, and to rush. That will create a spot for him in the Patriots’ five most common fronts.
A comparison for Josh Uche is Jamie Collins. Collins had a slow rookie year as the Patriots tried to find the best way to use the versatile defender. He exploded onto the scene in 2014 and was a key defender in the Patriots Super Bowl win against the Seahawks. The following year Collins was named All-Pro.
Both players are incredibly versatile which allows them to line up in multiple formations and be effective in every phase of the defense. Can Uche follow suit and take that giant second-year leap and put it all together? His advanced metrics and game tapes show he is a player on the verge of breaking out and becoming a top defender in a defense that utilizes versatility.
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