Attrition in the NFL is a way of life. Players come and players go. While the league is incredibly entertaining, it is a business at the end of the day.
This offseason, the Atlanta Falcons decided to move on from young strong side linebacker De’Vondre Campbell in free agency. Now there lies a void in the Falcons defense that is likely to be filled in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. Thankfully, there are a few solid, versatile strong side linebackers that may be available for the Falcons on Day 1 or 2.
Today, we will preview one of the better prospects at that position that can be a legitimate asset to the defense in Atlanta.
Joshua Uche Scouting Report
Weight: 245 pounds
Career stats: 26 career games, 52 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, three forced fumbles
Games watched: 2018 vs. Ohio State, 2018 vs. Wisconsin, 2019 vs. Iowa, 2019 vs. Penn State
The accolades did not come until his senior year, but that particular campaign earned Uche second-team All-Big Ten honors. The 2019 season for Uche saw his skill set come to form a bit with career-highs in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and fumble recoveries. Uche checks the ‘athleticism’ box because of his natural gifts.
What may be Uche’s strongest attribute is his versatility, whether it’s effectively rushing from a stand-up or 3-point stance position or being able to effectively be utilized in man or zone coverage. A very fluid defender, Uche used the Senior Bowl practice and game to showcase his coverage abilities, mainly against tight ends.
Uche rarely shows inactivity in his footwork and it stands out when he has to covert speed-to-power as a pass rusher. When rushing off the edge, Uche displays how to flip his hips precisely and time it very well in his rush arc. Which is key due to Uche not being a legitimate NFL edge rusher. In addition, Uche shows plenty of flexibility to bend the edge and dip underneath linemen while also maintaining momentum to finish the rush and get in the backfield.
Don’t mistake Uche as a full-time NFL pass rusher at the next level. His slight frame prohibits him from taking on that responsibility. Adding on strength to his frame is necessary for development. Uche was very much a late bloomer with only six total tackles and a sack in his first two seasons in Ann Arbor. There is a lack of experience that some will have to get over when it comes to looking at Uche’s career numbers with the Wolverines.
Uche is still a work in progress when it comes to hand usage when he is pass rushing. At the next level, Uche will be used as a Swiss-Army defender. Hand usage when rushing the passer will be key as he will not be able to win with sheer athleticism alone. His lack of length on the edge can be a hindrance at times as well, especially in run defense when tasked to set the edge.
Buried under a number of high quality defenders in the 2020 NFL Draft, Uche is one of the best hidden gems in the entire class. While his lack of production will be alarming to some, the potential showed on tape when given ample playing time creates a real intrigue that surrounds Uche and his overall ability.
For the Falcons, Uche would be an ideal fit at strong side linebacker, and his overall athleticism can be an upgrade over Campbell if he is developed properly. Uche had relatively small buzz entering Senior Bowl week in January but thanks to that stage given to him, he was able to make a name for himself and is a likely top-60 selection at this point. The Falcons have showed notable interest in Uche and can be a very possible target if the Falcons choose to address the linebacker spot in Round 2.