The New England Patriots’ top-ranked scoring defense experienced considerable turnover this offseason, especially in the linebacker room. Gone are free agency departees Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts; gone is Dont’a Hightower who exercised the Covid-19 opt-out. With the four veterans gone, New England will turn to its young players at the position to fill the void.
One of those is second-round rookie Josh Uche. Not only is the Michigan product projected to see regular playing time this year, one analyst sees him as a candidate to be named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: NBC Sports’ Peter King, who had the following to say about the youngster.
Defensive rookie: Josh Uche, linebacker, New England (2. Chase Young, 3. Jeff Okudah, 4. Willie Gay). The 60th pick in the draft is intriguing because he’s a little undersized (6-3, 230) and he played only 53 percent of the defensive snaps at Michigan last year. He may not play more than that in Foxboro, but his production around the edge could mimic Kyle Van Noy’s last year in the best season of Van Noy’s life. The Michigan tape of Uche (pronounced “OO-chay”) suggests the versatility and production Bill Belichick demands from his linebackers.
Could Uche indeed win the award and become the first Patriot to do so since former inside linebacker current assistant coach Jerod Mayo in 2008? In theory, yes, but the competition will not be easy to beat out while he has yet to show that he can find success in New England’s defense after seeing only irregular action at Michigan. Still, he should get plenty of chances to prove his value to the new-look unit.