Sorry Cam Heyward, another Michigan Wolverine might be joining you on the Steelers this year.
Among the many Michigan prospects entering the NFL draft, one stands out in particular, versatile linebacker Josh Uche.
Uche is an exceptional athlete, and while he didn't run at the combine (and his Pro Day was cancelled), his speed and agility are easy to see on the tape.
Uche was a frequent blitzer in college, and while he is slightly undersized for a pass rusher (6’1”, 245 lbs), he made up for it with an excellent speed rush and great bend. However, he isn’t a one trick pony, as he blitzed from both the the inside and outside, displaying good hand-usage and the occasional bull-rush.
Still, Uche had a problem going up against bigger offensive tackles, and looked completely swallowed up at times by taller lineman. Despite sometimes displaying good power, he will most likely have to bulk up a bit to be a full-time edge rusher in the NFL.
For what it’s worth, PFF ranked him as their highest-rated prospect at the Senior Bowl.
However, Uche’s calling card is his versatility, as he played a lot of inside linebacker in college as well.
He was excellent in coverage, and really shined dropping back to cover the seam. His athleticism gives him great range, and he got some sacks by simply shooting through gaps in the offensive line at blazing speed. In a game against Penn State, he ended up having to cover speedy wideout KJ Hamler on a deep route, and managed to catch up and break up the pass - as a 245 pound linebacker.
The best part is that he is exactly what the Steelers need on defense this year.
Pittsburgh’s starters are set at the linebacker positions (T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Devin Bush, Vince Williams), but the depth behind them is still a mystery, especially having let go of Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, and Tyler Matekevich this offseason.
Next in line, if a starter goes down, are Ulysses Gilbert, Robert Spillane, Tuzar Skipper, and Ola Adeyini, but for now they are nothing more than late-round/UDFA small school stars with little-to-no regular season experience.
Uche has the ability to fill in at EDGE behind Watt and Dupree, while also operating as a coverage/hybrid linebacker when needed. Devin Bush struggled with covering tight ends last year, which is an area Uche excels. Combining his speed with Keith Butler’s genius blitz designs could form a lethal combination. He also has the skill set to be a special teams ace, if all else fails.
My point is this, Uche can replace both Anthony Chickillo and Mark Barron for the Steelers in 2020, and if one of the the starting linebackers goes down, the team will have a competent backup.
Uche isn’t a perfect prospect, and will need some time to bulk up and develop to reach his potential. He has a bit of an injury history, as a hamstring issue kept him out of the combine, and he apparently has suffered a torn meniscus and stress fracture in his foot at some point in his career. Thankfully, it doesn't seem as if there are any concerns regarding his injuries. There are some questions about his experience, but although 2019 was his only year as a full-time starter, he enjoyed a lot of playing time in 2018.
He doesn't look like a typical Steelers edge rusher, but would be playing more of a hybrid role for the team. For the most part, he wouldn’t be thrust into too important of a position in 2020, but if Bud Dupree isn’t on the team next year, he would be ready to start.
At the combine, Uche had an informal meeting with the Steelers, and he talked about the team at his press conference as well. The Steelers love their Michigan players, and Uche, who was a teammate of Devin Bush in 2018, could be the next to don the black-and-gold.
Josh Uche is a high-upside, athletic chess piece who projects to be picked anywhere from the early second round to the late third. The Steelers obviously have other positions worth picking at the top of the draft (most notably offensive line), but if Uche is available, especially for their third round pick, they will definitely have to take a look.
Adding the versatile linebacker would solidify an already dominant defense, and possibly pay dividends in the future as well.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft.