When the Patriots season ended back on January 4th, everyone knew there were going to be major changes. At the time, the talk all centered around Brady, and rightfully so, but two huge personnel questions were flying under the Brady radar. Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins were both set to become unrestricted free agents, and considering how important they were to New England’s past success, this was clearly going to need to be addressed immediately. Would the Patriots dip into the funds and pay these guys or was it just not in the cards?
We learned that answer pretty quickly in free agency when Van Noy signed with division rival Miami and Collins signed with the Patriots B-team in Detroit. It became very clear that the Patriots were going to address this situation in the draft, and many predicted that they would address it with their first pick. The linebacker everyone predicted them to take did go at 23, but it was the Chargers making the selection as the Patriots traded back. When they got to Day Two, the Patriots saw the man they wanted still on the board when he probably should have been gone, and they pounced, trading up to 60 to select Michigan EDGE Josh Uche.
Uche, who is listed at 6’1 245 pounds, hails from Miami, Florida where he first attended Palmetto High School before transferring to Christopher Columbus High School before his sophomore year. Uche didn’t play football as a freshman, but once he got to Columbus, his parents allowed him to play football. He steadily improved as a sophomore and junior before exploding onto the national scene as a senior and finished as an All-State selection, which is impressive in the prospect-loaded state of Florida.
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Uche was heavily recruited coming out of Columbus High, receiving offers from Michigan, Auburn, Miami, Alabama, Boston College, Bowling Green, Florida, FAU, Louisville, Marshall, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Syracuse, USF, and Cincinnati. He originally committed to Miami, but after Coach Golden and his staff were let go, he decided to go to Ann Arbor and join the Michigan Wolverines. Uche was ranked as a three-star prospect by Scout.com (now 247) and also by Rivals. In his first three years at Michigan, he played sparingly, being used in sub-packages as a pass rusher. That all changed his senior year.
Uche started nine out of 13 games, playing just under 53% of the defensive snaps on the season, a huge jump from the three prior years. He finished the season with 35 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defended. Uche started nine of the Wolverines 13 games, so his impressive production didn’t come in a full-time role; there is room for growth with Uche, and the Patriots, along with the Michigan coaches, can see that with the proper coaching and Uche’s commitment to improvement, he can be an excellent pass rusher in the NFL.
Uche can get off the ball with the best of them, but he does struggle at times when engaged with blockers. He needs to improve his hand battling technique in the NFL so he doesn’t get tied up by some of the excellent pass blockers he’ll face on a weekly basis. The Patriots like to use different line stunts and twists, something that Uche excels at because it allows him to use his quick-twitch athleticism to get by interior lineman. Uche has a nose for the ball and his terrific speed allows him to clean up potential mistakes and also close very quickly. This is one of the traits that should help him tremendously in the NFL, a league that is now more about speed than ever.
New England knows what they are looking for in the edge defenders, and Uche is clearly a player they coveted considering they traded up for him, but it is important for fans to be patient with Uche. He is going to be in sub-packages and special teams to start and he likely will ramp up in playing time as the season wears on. In time, assuming he is doing what the coaches ask, Uche has a chance to become a strong NFL edge, but the road will be a long one.