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The 5 O’Clock Club: Sorry I came late to the Cole Holcomb party

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.


I slept in.

I have no one to blame but myself.

I’m late to the party, and I need to apologize.

I’m ready to jump on the Cole Holcomb hype train now.

It’s not that I wasn’t seeing him make plays last season, and it’s not that I didn’t want him to succeed. I think I got a couple of narratives stuck in my head early on and forgot to just pay attention to what I was seeing on the field.

Excuse #1
When Cole Holcomb was drafted, the draft analysis guys said he was a backup and special teamer. As a rookie, he only got on the field (or so it seemed) due to the injury to Reuben Foster, and he didn’t seem to play any better than the backup he was projected to be.

Excuse #2
While Cole Holcomb was making plays last season, the WFT linebacker play overall wasn’t so good. With the backup/special teamer narrative running in my brain (see Excuse #1), and the more recent narrative about Washington’s linebackers not being very good, I guess I just put Holcomb in the ‘overachiever’ box and saw him as a Reed Doughty type — a backup who was starting because the team just didn’t have the depth it needed.

But I’m okay now, and ready to join the party

While some folks like Mark Tyler have raised questions about how the MIKE and WILL positions will be manned this season, there seems to be no question about the starting SAM linebacker; it will be Cole Holcomb. There doesn’t really seem to be any genuine competition for the role on the roster. In fact, he may not even have a full-time backup in the linebacker group; Mark Tyler seems to think that Holcomb’s primary backup may end up being a cross-trained rookie defensive end, Shaka Toney.

Entering his third season as an NFL starting linebacker is a huge achievement for Holcomb, who was a walk-on at North Carolina and who, as I mentioned at least twice already, was seen as a likely backup and special teamer by most analysists ahead of the 2019 NFL draft.

While Holcomb did not participate in the Combine, his pro day numbers were impressive:

  • 22 bench reps
  • 11” broad
  • 4.48 40
  • skipped vert (jumped 39.5” at the regional combine)
  • 6.77 3 cone
  • 4.18 20 shuttle

As KS4GM wrote in an earlier article about Holcomb:

His 40 time of 4.48 would have been 4th among linebackers (behind only the Devins and Gary Johnson) at the Combine; His broad jump of 132” would have been tops among LBs; His vertical of 39.5” would have tied him for second, with Devin White (only Devin Bush leaped higher); His 22 reps would have tied him at 12th - with Devin White. Athletically, in fact, Holcomb appears to mirror Devin White very closely.

In the NFL, Holcomb has exceeded all expectations, except, perhaps, his own.

While he certainly did play special teams as a rookie, Holcomb also saw the field for 718 defensive snaps. The rookie fifth-round pick made 15 starts and played 63.3 percent of defensive snaps, stepping in at inside linebacker after Reuben Foster suffered an ACL tear during the off-season program. Even so, expectations at the end of his rookie season were that he would probably return to his backup role in 2020 under the new coaching staff.

And that’s pretty much how things started off last season. Bostic, Shaun Dion-Hamilton and Kevin Pierre-Louis got the start in Week 1. Holcomb played only special teams in that opening win against the Eagles, in which he suffered a knee injury that kept him out for the next 4 weeks.

When Holcomb was healthy enough to play again in Week 6, Shaun Dion-Hamilton was benched; Holcomb resumed his previous season’s role as a starting linebacker (though changing from a base 3-4 to a base 4-3) and was no longer asked to play special teams.

Holcomb ended up starting 11 of Washington’s final 12 games, including the playoff loss to Tampa Bay. Holcomb often worked in a three-down role, closing out the year with at least seven tackles and a 73 percent snap share in six consecutive games. Holcomb ended the 2020 season as Washington’s best-graded linebacker, per PFF, and was ranked 9th in the NFL among linebackers with at least 400 snaps.

Pro Football Focus

As can be seen from the chart, Holcomb graded quite consistently across run defense, pass rush and coverage grades. By season’s end, Holcomb had cemented himself as Washington’s starter at the SAM position.

Cole Holcomb highlights

Holcomb certainly doesn’t lack for confidence and he expects big things of himself and the rest of the defense in 2021. Even as a third-year player, he has already taken on a mentoring role with rookie Jamin Davis. Speaking at the beginning of June, Holcomb gave his thought on the upcoming season:

I think we have the possibility of being one of the best defenses in the league. We always talk about being a top-5 defense; that’s always the goal. We’re always striving to be the best and I think we have the tools to do it, so I think we could be the best defense in the league.

A year ago, Washington finished the season with the league’s 5th-ranked defense. With the addition of free agents like safety Bobby McCain and cornerback William Jackson III, along with the drafting of Jamin Davis, Benjamin St-Juste, and others, there is a feeling among Washington fans that even greater things can be achieved by this defense in 2021.

Cole Holcomb obviously concurs.

Poll

Who will line up at Middle Linebacker on the first defensive play from scrimmage against the Chargers in Week 1?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Jon Bostic
    (229 votes)
  • 73%
    Jamin Davis
    (685 votes)
  • 1%
    Someone else
    (18 votes)
932 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Last year, Bostic led the WFT defense with 1,039 snaps. How many defensive snaps will Cole Holcomb play in the 2021 17-game season?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    fewer than 600
    (11 votes)
  • 4%
    601-750
    (33 votes)
  • 25%
    751-900
    (197 votes)
  • 49%
    901-1,050
    (386 votes)
  • 20%
    more than 1,050
    (159 votes)
786 votes total Vote Now