The Patriots signed the first of their 10 draft picks, inking second-round pick Josh Uche to a four-year contract Wednesday, according to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
Uche, taken with the 60th overall selection, got a deal that is projected to be worth $5.3 million, including a signing bonus of $1.4 million. He was the second of New England’s two second-round picks. Safety Kyle Dugger went at No. 37.
The former Michigan standout is the highest player drafted to sign his rookie deal. Uche was voted defensive player of the year by his teammates last season, when he posted career highs of 35 tackles and 8½ sacks. Uche totaled 56 tackles and 16½ sacks in 40 career games for the Wolverines.
The 6-foot-3-inch 226-pounder’s game really took off over his final two seasons in Ann Arbor. He credited a challenge from defensive coordinator Don Brown for the uptick in his play.
“I wasn’t getting that much playing time, as much as I wanted," Uche said at the NFL Combine. "I felt like I was doing everything I had to do. I was frustrated. I’ll be honest, thoughts of transferring came across my head.
"But I didn’t want to just leave, get up and jump in the transfer portal. So I sat down with Coach Brown, I asked him, ‘What can I do to play more? What do I have to do?’
"He wanted me to just keep competing. Keep competing at a high level and just see what happens and be patient, and that’s what I did. That same winter, [strength] coach Ben Herbert came in, along with [nutritionist] Abigail O’Connor, and you know my weight went up, my eating habits went up, everything went up.
"I got a lot stronger, my body started to change. It’s a testament to those two as well.’’
Known primarily as a pass-rushing specialist early in his career, Uche became more of a three-down player after improving his ability to stop the run and drop into coverage. With the Patriots, he projects to help fill the void left by versatile linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, who left via free agency.