When the New England Patriots traded down in the first round of the NFL draft, they picked up two selections previously owned by the Los Angeles Chargers. The first of them — the 37th overall in the second round — was used on safety Kyle Dugger; the second was reinvested as part of another trade: the Patriots bundled together the 71st and the 98th overall picks to move into the 60th spot in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
The player that led Bill Belichick and company to move up the board again was Michigan linebacker Josh Uche. Uche is a versatile front-seven defender who may still have room for growth entering the next level and is a bit raw around the edges, but also has the athletic upside and versatile skillset to develop into an impactful member of New England’s outside/move linebacker rotation alongside his former college teammate Chase Winovich.
How the Patriots will eventually use Uche remains to be seen — he played both on and off the line of scrimmage in Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown’s 4-3 scheme — but the second-round draft pick himself feels confident in his abilities to adapt and make an impact upon arriving in New England. In fact, the 21-year-old went so far as to call himself “a perfect” fit for how New England operates on the defensive side of the ball.
“When I got the call, I just knew that it was a perfect fit for me,” Uche told reporters during his introductory conference call shortly after getting drafted last Friday. “I feel like the Patriots are going to maximize everything that I have to offer and they a run a tight ship just like Coach [Jim] Harbaugh does — probably better and everything like that because it’s the pros. It’s just a blessing. I knew they were interested, but I didn’t know it was going to happen like this.”
Uche’s biggest asset other than his positional flexibility and his productivity as a pass rusher — he generated pressure on 23.3% of his pass-rushing attempts in 2019, the second best such number in the FBS last year — might just be his confidence in himself. As he pointed out during his conference call, he feels strongly that taking the step up to the next level should not pose that big a challenge for him given his experience and time at Michigan.
“I have the utmost confidence in myself,” Uche said. “A lot of guys don’t know how complex Coach Brown’s defense is — there’s so many different depths to it, and levels to it, and a bunch of different plays and sets, and different formations you’ve got to do different things with. I definitely feel prepared for what’s to come because Coach Brown is the best in the business and he makes sure his players get ready.”
Coming from a hybrid scheme such as Michigan’s is not the only reason why Uche sees himself as a fit in New England, though: “I would say it’s a good fit for me because I’m a hard-ass worker and the Patriots work their asses off, so that’s first and foremost. The Patriots themselves are just very unique, very diverse, very dynamic and they do a bunch of different things, and I feel like that’s who I am as a football player.”
This “doing a bunch of different things” has been a hallmark of the Patriots’ draft this year — the team valued versatility based on the selection of Uche and other players as well — and the entire team in general: the more you can do, the more valuable you can be to the operation. Two players that exemplify this are safety Devin McCourty and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and Uche had to say plenty of positive things after hearing the names of his new teammates.
“It inspires a greatness. Those names right there just ooze greatness. I was playing with the Patriots on Madden for the last couple weeks and just seeing how efficiently things run and the uniqueness of the defense and stuff like that – everyone does their job, everyone’s very locked in, very disciplined. Just when you say those two names, it inspires me to be great,” he said. “I just feel like it’s definitely a perfect fit.”