Steelers finally have an off-ball linebacker who cracks a top players list

Steelers, Cole Holcomb
Steelers, Cole Holcomb / Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are well known for having outstanding linebackers throughout their storied history. Jack Ham and Jack Lambert were two of the best to ever play the position, and they were followed up through the years by hard-hitting players like Levon Kirkland, Kendrell Bell, and James Farrior.

Ryan Shazier was on track to be the next great off-ball linebacker in Pittsburgh before a spinal injury ended his career early. Since playing his final games in 2017, the Steelers have had a severe drought in which they've barely been able to muster up average linebacker play.

They tried to fill this hole by trading up to the 10th overall pick to draft Michigan's Devin Bush back in 2019, but he certainly wasn't the answer. Pittsburgh also went the route of signing and even trading for veterans who could be stop-gap starters, but players like Jon Bostic, Avery Williamson, Joe Schobert, and Myles Jack each fell flat.

Now the Steelers are operating under the same philosophy but hoping for better results. Perhaps they have found the player they have been searching for this time around.

Recently, Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus comprised tier rankings of his top 32 off-ball linebackers in the NFL. Surprisingly, a Steeler made this list -- and he's one who has yet to play a snap in Pittsburgh. Sikkema had Cole Holcomb as the 31st-best linebacker in football, just ahead of Dallas' Leighton Vander Esch.

Did Steelers find a top-32 linebacker in Cole Holcomb?

As Steelers fans who have witnessed abysmal linebacker play in recent years, we need to be careful about saying, 'There's only room to improve from here'. We didn't think things could get much worse than they were in 2020 and 2021, but somehow, they did last year.

Fortunately, Pittsburgh finally found a linebacker that fans can start to get excited about. Prior to his season-ending injury, Cole Holcomb was having a breakout year for the Washington Commanders. In just his first 7 games of 2022, Holcomb could be seen flying all over the field and making plays. This resulted in him earning an impressive 9.85 tackles per game while grading out as the 35th-best linebacker in the league, per Pro Football Focus.

Holcomb is now healthy and ready to go entering his second contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and videos from Steelers OTAs show how athletic Holcomb really is. This is a player who flows naturally to the football, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a big year on his new team.

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Pro Football Focus seems to think that Holcomb is among the top 32 NFL linebackers getting set to enter the 2023 season. If he can stay healthy, Cole Holcomb will have a chance to be the best linebacker since Ryan Shazier (not that this is a particularly high bar to clear).