7. Josh Uche
Second-string players aren’t typically seen as the best on their team but don’t tell that to Josh Uche.
The former Michigan Wolverine is fresh off a breakout season that saw him finish second on the Patriots when it came to sacks (11.5) and tackles for a loss (9) while also racking up a pair of forced fumbles without missing a single tackle for the third consecutive season.
He also rarely gave QBs a chance to think, amassing 25 pressures, 10 hurries, and 14 QB hits.
The most impressive part of it all? Uche accomplished the above while only playing 38% over defensive snaps across 15 games without a single start.
If he can finally put it all together in Year 4, Uche has the potential to be one of the AFC’s most disruptive forces. If he can put together the pieces (specifically improving his coverage in the passing game), I won’t be shocked if a Pro Bowl is in his near future.
6. Jonathan Jones
If you aren’t a Patriots friend, Jonathan Jones’ 2022 campaign likely flew under your radar. However, if you do follow the team, you know how good he was last year.
After starting in just 27 of his first 85 career games (31.8%), Jones was a starter in all 16 of his appearances last season. The elevated responsibility was rightfully deserved as the veteran CB ranked highly among the Patriots in the following categories:
- Interceptions: 4 (T-No. 1)
- Passes defended: 11 (No. 1)
- Forced fumbles: 3 (No. 1)
- Solo tackles: 56 (No. 2)
- Completion rate (min. 20 targets): 52.7% (No. 2)
- Passer rating (min. 20 targets): 73.0 (No. 3)
On one hand, the Patriots desperately need an encore performance if they want their pass defense to rank among the league’s best again. On the flip side, some fans are concerned that Jones’ showing was an anomaly due to his breakout campaign not happening until Year 7.
I’m choosing to believe that Jones still has enough left in the tank. The fact that he wasn’t an everyday starter for so long means he’s taken less of a beating than other players his age, meaning I could see him last at this level for a few more years.