Patriots

Could Pats LB win Defensive Rookie of the Year?

Patriots

The New England Patriots will need their young players to step up this season if they want any shot at success.

NBC Sports' Peter King believes the team's second-round draft pick will be up to that task and then some.

In his NFL predictions column Monday, King tabbed Patriots outside linebacker Josh Uche as his choice to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, ahead of top-three draft picks Chase Young and Jeff Okudah.

Why is King so bullish on Uche? It's all about opportunity.

Curran's 2020 NFL predictions: How far will Pats fall?

"The 60th pick in the draft is intriguing because he’s a little undersized (6-3, 230) and he played only 53 percent of the defensive snaps at Michigan last year. He may not play more than that in Foxboro, but his production around the edge could mimic Kyle Van Noy’s last year in the best season of Van Noy’s life," King wrote.

Uche's film from four years at Michigan, King added, "suggests the versatility and production Bill Belichick demands from his linebackers."

New England has a massive hole at linebacker after Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts left in free agency and Dont'a Hightower opted out of the 2020 season.

Perry: What we'll be saying about Pats' rookie class after 2020

Uche has a similar build and skill set as Van Noy, so King is banking on Belichick's defense maximizing the 21-year-old's talents as it did with Van Noy, who ranked among Pro Football Focus' top 100 players last season as the Patriots' starting outside linebacker.

Belichick usually doesn't use his first-year players a ton -- Chase Winovich led Patriots rookies last season by playing in 28.9 percent of New England's defensive snaps -- but he may need to lean on Uche in 2020 considering the team's turnover at linebacker.