Chase Young was the second overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. It made all the sense in the world to take him there, after completely dominating his final year at Ohio State. He finished the season with 16.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss and was touted as the league's next great defensive player.
58 picks later, from the Buckeyes arch-rival Michigan, the New England Patriots drafted Josh Uche. At first glance, he was nowhere on the same level as Young. His numbers were about half those of the first-round pick, but what people don't understand, is he also had half the opportunity. He actually was better than Chase Young in defensive win shares on passing downs. People have been overlooking Uche for a long time, and last season with the Patriots was no exception.
The casual fan would be unimpressed by the numbers, at least on the surface. Uche finished the season with 11.5 sacks (13th in the league), and 14 quarterback hits (good for 48th). He also added 9 tackles for a loss and 10 quarterback hurries. Not the kind of numbers that jump off the page, at least, not compared to teammate Matthew Judon. I've never believed in surface numbers myself, so let's take a deep dive together.
Josh Uche was only on the field for 374 snaps (38% of the team's defensive plays). Judon was on the field for 860 snaps (76% of the Patriots' defensive plays). If we look at the stats based on a percentage of snaps, rather than the totals, we get a completely different picture of who the most dominant defender on the team was last year.
Uche hit the quarterback on 3.74% of his snaps and sacked the quarterback on 3.07% of his defensive snaps. His 10 quarterback hurries account for 2.67% of the snaps he played. Matthew Judon's percentage in the same categories was 3.26%, 1.80%, and 1.52% respectively. It's not even close. Josh Uche wreaks more havoc when he's on the field than the team's "best defensive player".
This revelation spurred my curiosity, and I decided to compare Uche's 2022 season to the best defensive seasons by a pass rusher over the last 3 years. In 2022, that was Nick Bosa. He sacked the quarterback on 2.48% of his defensive snaps and hurried the quarterback on 1.20% of his snaps. He may have better totals, but he's still a less effective pass rusher than Uche per play.
2021 was an amazing year for Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns. He was named defensive player of the year, and yet his efficiency still trailed Uche's 2022 season. Garrett hurried the quarterback on 1.97% of the snaps he played, hit the quarterback on 3.01% of his snaps, and sacked the quarterback on 1.85% of his snaps. Those percentages look a lot better when multiplied by 865 defensive snaps.
Lastly, I compared Uche's 2022 season to Aaron Donald's 2020 season. Like Garrett, he was the defensive player of the year that season and posted some pretty impressive totals. His per-snap percentages were solid too, just not as good as Uche's. Donald hurried the quarterback on 1.62% of the snaps he played, hit the quarterback 3.24% of the time, and sacked the quarterback 1.56% of the time.
Multiplying Uche's percentages by the 850 snaps the other guys got, he would have had 22.5 hurries, 32 quarterback hits, and 26 sacks. Those aren't just defensive player of the year numbers, those are hall-of-fame numbers. I don't think you could point to a better edge rusher in the league than Uche, and in 2023, I'll have my fingers crossed that Belichick turns him loose. We may get the chance to witness history.