Despite being linked with several top prospects, the Washington Commanders surprisingly opted against drafting a linebacker this year. It was a bold decision given it’s without question the weakest position group on the roster.
While Washington seemingly has a stud on their hands in Cole Holcomb, who really emerged as a leader of the defense in 2021, Jamin Davis’ rookie year was anything but promising, Khaleke Hudson has played 74 snaps as a former fifth-round pick and David Mayo isn’t the fleetest of foot in coverage, to say the least.
It remains to be seen if the Commanders add another linebacker to the rotation through free agency, but Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio seem content rolling with Holcomb and Davis as their one-two punch after they deployed two LB packages nearly 70 percent of the time when the defense was on the field last year.
It’s not an ideal situation by any means, but the Commanders are banking on Holcomb to make another leap after his breakout 2021.
The 25-year-old Holcomb has received big praise from both Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew this offseason. During a recent interview, Holcomb’s defensive coordinator became the latest to join that list.
Commanders DC Jack Del Rio had big praise for Cole Holcomb after the linebacker’s breakout 2021 campaign.
"“Holcomb, when we first got here, he had played his rookie year. Little raw. We liked some things about him. He had played better that next year and then last year he took a huge step forward. He really played very well. In fact, a lot of the guys that are getting the pub around the league, he played as well or better than.”"
Del Rio is essentially speaking for every Commanders fan here. On top of posting career-highs across the board, Holcomb led the team with 142 tackles, finished fourth with seven passes defended, tied for second with two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown against Dallas, and two forced fumbles.
Earlier in the offseason, Rivera and Mayhew echoed a similar appreciation for Holcomb’s emergence as an all-around linebacker.
"“We’ve had a real good evaluation of our personnel,” Rivera said in March. “One of the things we did talk about was Cole and Cole’s development, how it’s going. I feel really good about what he’s done.”"
When asked about the questions surrounding the MIKE position, which was left vacant after Jon Bostic’s season-ending pec injury, Mayhew, seemingly without hesitation, nominated Holcomb as the ideal candidate to fill the void.
"“We feel like Cole Holcomb has a chance to go in there and play Mike for us, so there’s not a tremendous urgency to go and do something right there,” Mayhew said. “He did a good job when he was in there. He kind of grew in that position last year when he got an opportunity. … Cole’s an option for us.”"
Like Del Rio, Rivera and Mayhew were speaking for the fan base there.
On the surface, Holcomb’s 2021 was remarkably impressive, but it becomes even more eye-opening when you realize he did all of it without a proper running mate. When healthy, Bostic was a huge liability, Davis hardly played for a first-round pick, and everyone else, well, they only made his job more difficult.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Holcomb will be eligible to receive an extension if he performs to a similar level in 2022. Knowing his mentality, we certainly aren’t going to bet against him.
It’s like Del Rio said: “Don’t sleep on Cole Holcomb.”