Patriots pass rusher among ten NFL players with most to prove in 2024

Matthew Judon and Josh Uche celebrate a first quarter sack against the Eagles.
Matthew Judon and Josh Uche celebrate a first quarter sack against the Eagles. / Kris Craig / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Patriots' defense has been the better side of the team for the last several years and is expected to remain that way this upcoming season. Nearly all players who made up the roster last year are still with the team, including Joshua Uche, who had a down year even after Matthew Judon's absence created an opportunity.

The fifth year linebacker has had an up and down career thus far, looking like he was on his way out before receiving a new contract this offseason.

Uche had a slow start to his NFL career, recording unremarkable back-to-back seasons in 2020 and 2021. He then had an awakening the following year, under the mentorship of pass-rushing extraordinaire Matthew Judon, recording a career-high 27 combined tackles, nine tackles for a loss, 14 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, and 11.5 sacks.

It looked like he had solidified his role on the defense with that performance, only to follow it up with the same lackluster production he had during the first years of his career. It's partly why Bill Belichick shopped Uche before last year's trade deadline, only to retain him for the rest of the season.

Because of his close working relationship with new head coach Jerod Mayo, he received a one-year contract to stay with the Patriots. He chose to remain where his career started despite better offers from other teams, but he now has even more pressure to perform this fall.

Joshua Uche has a lot of pressure to repeat his 2022 season this year

Uche proved he could be exactly the type of player the Patriots need on the defense, looking every bit like the solid number two guy alongside Judon, only to revert to his old form all within a single season.

That's the basis for why he was named among the ten players selected by the team at Pro Football Focus with the most to prove this upcoming season, and for good reason.

"Uche was sensational in 2022, amassing 56 pressures on only 285 pass-rush snaps. Despite having a similar workload last year, Uche mustered just 37 pressures, while his total number of defensive stops dropped from 19 to 6.

The four-year pro has been harangued by injuries throughout his career, but he has been good in two of his four seasons (2020 and 2022). The other two haven’t gone according to plan. Now on a one-year deal, Uche needs to prove he’s more than a flash in a pan if he wants to hang around as a bona fide starter."

This could be a do-or-die season for the former Michigan Wolverine, for his future with the Patriots and a future in the NFL. He might have been pursued this offseason by other teams, but it was likely due to the belief in his potential, which he showed in 2022, and not his recent production.

The problem is that his potential will not be enticing enough for other teams to pursue him again if he doesn't perform better this season. Mayo might entertain a team-friendly deal if that's the case, but other teams will look the other way if he becomes a free agent.

It's a lot of pressure to perform, and hopefully, Uche is up to the challenge.

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