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‘Huge Benefit To This Talented Defense:’ Cole Holcomb Named One Of NFL’s Most Impactful Free Agent Additions


When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed LB Cole Holcomb in free agency, they were looking for someone to finally stabilize the off-ball linebacker position after years of subpar play. Holcomb wasn’t great in Week One, but in Week Two he was one of the best players on the field, forcing a fumble and finishing with eight total tackles, one quarterback pressure and just one reception allowed. Pro Football Focus recently named him one of the most impactful free-agent additions across the NFL this offseason.

“If Holcomb can continue to man the middle of the field and up the seams in coverage and prevent throws between the second level and the single-high safety that Pittsburgh generally deploys, he’ll be a huge benefit to this talented defense,” Brad Spielberger wrote.

Holcomb had an impressive 80.6 coverage grade on Monday, and coverage is one area in particular where the Steelers linebackers have struggled in past years. It’s not a consistent strength of Holcomb’s, or at least it hasn’t been in the past, but he has had some flashes. Monday was a really impressive performance in that facet of the game, and he also contributed by getting downhill and with his really impressive strip of TE David Njoku to force a turnover.

Performances like the one Holcomb had on Monday are what the Steelers are going to need from their inside linebackers going forward. All three of Holcomb, Elandon Roberts and Kwon Alexander have shown they can be thumpers, but the Steelers haven’t had an inside linebacker they could truly rely on in coverage since Ryan Shazier got hurt. If Holcomb can blossom into a better coverage linebacker, that’s going to make life a lot easier for Pittsburgh’s defense.

It’s a unit that won the day on Monday, forcing four turnovers and sacking Deshaun Watson six times. But there were still cracks, with the Steelers run defense looking pretty lackluster and two pretty blah performances from starting cornerbacks Levi Wallace and Patrick Peterson. Guys have to step up, but Holcomb showed it’s possible to bounce back from a less-than-ideal Week One to become an impact player.

I’ve been excited about Holcomb for awhile, and it really wouldn’t surprise me if he maintains his Week Two level of play. While the numbers won’t be as gaudy every week, Holcomb can finally provide that stabilizing presence at inside linebacker the Steelers have lacked for far too long, and that’s important.

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