Cole Holcomb's uncertain recovery timetable could force Steelers to draft LB early

Omar Khan doesn't know when Cole Holcomb will be back, which means the Steelers might take a LB sooner than expected this April.

Tennessee Titans v Pittsburgh Steelers
Tennessee Titans v Pittsburgh Steelers / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

When Cole Holcomb went down with a gruesome knee injury, in the middle of the 2023 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers quickly ruled him out for the remainder of the year. While we never received confirmation on the extent of the damage, the speculation was that this was an ACL and that the veteran linebacker would be ready to return to the field by the time training camp rolls around this summer.

Unfortunately, that's not guaranteed to be the case. General manager Omar Khan spoke to the media at the NFL Combine where he shared that there is no timetable for Holcomb to return, per reporter Mike DeFabo.

Along with the uncertainty surrounding the health of Holcomb, Khan reminded us that Kwon Alexander is an unrestricted free agent and that he is still in the process of recovering from a ruptured Achilles he suffered one week after Holcomb went down for the year.

Alexander isn't expected to be part of the future plan, and it's unlikely that he will be ready to play when the season begins. However, the potential absence of Holcomb leaves a gaping hole at the top linebacker spot on Pittsburgh's defense, and the Steelers may be forced to dip their feet in the water at the position early in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Steelers may be forced to draft a linebacker on Day 2

Based on the talent pool at the linebacker position this year, it doesn't seem likely that the Pittsburgh Steelers would spend the 20th overall pick to shore up this position. Without arguably a single first-round-graded linebacker this year, this would seem like a desperate move. However, drafting one as early as the second round seems to be very much in play.

At the 2024 NFL Combine, the Steelers met with nearly all of the top linebackers on hand in Indianapolis, including Texas A&M's Edgerrin Cooper, Michigan's Junior Colson, Clemson's Jeremiah Trotter Jr., and Ohio State's Tommy Eichenberg.

Coincidentally, the only top linebacker prospect they haven't met with yet is Payton Wilson. Though he was the most impressive of the group during on-field drills at the Combine, Wilson has a lengthy injury history (and one the Steelers probably want to avoid after witnessing multiple season-ending injuries to the position in 2023).

Personally, I'm not a big fan of this 2024 linebacker class, and I do believe that there will be better players on the board when the Steelers pick in the second and third rounds of the draft this year. At the same time, it's not hard to envision Khan and Mike Tomlin going in this direction early on Day 2.

Last year, the Steelers were forced to deploy players like Mykal Walker, Myles Jack, and Mark Robinson. This proved to be disastrous for the middle of their defense. Pittsburgh's brass doesn't want to find themselves in a position like this again.

Keep an eye on these linebackers to see which ones the Steelers will visit on the Pro Day scouting trail. This position is very much in play early in the 2024 NFL Draft.