Michigan Football: How high could Josh Uche rise in 2020 NFL Draft?

After an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl and throughout the offseason, Michigan football’s Josh Uche looks to continue to raise his draft stock.

Michigan has put out a lot of defensive studs in the past few drafts including Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill Peppers and Devin Bush. Save for Bush, none of these guys have lived up to the hype or expectation that they had while they were at Michigan.

Michigan has consistently had one of the best defenses in the country ever since they hired Don Brown to lead the unit and they’ve had several defenders get drafted in the first three rounds of the draft over the past few years. Josh Uche should be another one of those guys, especially after the Senior Bowl that he had. Uche was impressive all week in mobile and flashed his athleticism and pass rushing skills.

One of the crazy things about Uche is that he did not even become a starter until last season, and that could be a big concern for some NFL teams, despite having to sit behind some very good players his first few seasons at Michigan.

Uche arrived in Ann Arbor as a three-star defensive end from South Florida in 2016 and the former Miami Hurricanes commit was thought to be a steal in recruiting. He wound up redshirting and not playing but in just two games in 2016. Uche also did not see the field very much in 2017 and was relegated to being a backup and only recorded 3 total tackles and one sack.

His breakout season occurred in 2018. While he was still only a backup, Uche earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention for putting up seven sacks in limited action. He finally was ready to see the field in full time action last season for a very good Michigan defense. He finished the season with 35 tackles, 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

The talented edge rusher was flying a little under the radar leading up to the draft, but took an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl and made the most of it. He was flashing his quickness off the edge and his athleticism all week and scouts took notice.

I believe that he missed an opportunity by not being able to workout at the NFL combine due to a hamstring injury that he suffered while at the Senior Bowl and due to workouts and pro days being canceled due to the current pandemic.

Strengths

Uche is a very twitchy rusher who wins with his athleticism around the edge and was able to beat most of the tackles that he came up against with just pure speed. He showed the ability to convert speed to power and that will be important at the next level because you can’t always win with just your athleticism in the NFL.

I think that Uche is athletic enough to drop into coverage and be more than just a pass rusher and as I have written in some other pieces of mine, NFL teams value versatility and that is what he can provide: an athletic edge player with the ability to move around and play in coverage.

Weaknesses

I think it’s fair to wonder if Uche is just a one-trick pony who can only win matchups with speed.

Not becoming a starter until your redshirt junior season could also prompt questions: Is Uche just an athlete who can be on the field in certain situations and packages or was he just stuck behind some really talented players while at Michigan?

Uche is not the best run defender and his coverage skills are largely unproven. Michigan has put out players in the last few years that did not have the production to match up with their talent or draft hype and in his first three seasons, he had 19 total tackles and had a hard time seeing the field.

Is he just starting to scratch the surface of his potential or is he just a backup player with athletic ability?

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Draft Projection

Uche’s athleticism and potential will cause some teams to reach for him and he may go higher than you think. Edge rushers with athletic ability are at a premium in the NFL and I do think that Uche has more potential than he showed while at Michigan, but he may need to take a year or two to grow into his talent and become a more complete football player. Teams I would watch for to take him would be the Falcons, Bills and Seahawks.

Projection: Mid-to-late second round