By Adam Aniba
It seems for the short term, Washington has addressed their top need by trading for quarterback Carson Wentz. On the defensive side of the ball, MLB is still a question mark and arguably their top need. After Ron Rivera drafted Jamin Davis (48 solo tak, 3 tak for loss & 1 pass def in '21) 9th overall in 2021, Washington still finds themselves looking for a MIKE linebacker with Davis likely staying put at outside linebacker.
Hopes are higher for Cole Holcomb to fill the MLB role. He had a solid '21 season in which he registered 142 total tackles (83 solo), 1 sack, 2 tak for a loss, 2 forced fumb (1 recovery) 7 passes def and 2 ints (1 ret for a TD). Since his arrival, he's seen time at both OLB and MLB.
Holcomb has shown range and improved his overall coverage instincts, which was evident with career best in passes defended and interceptions in '21.
Holcomb will no doubt get a shot to be the teams starting MIKE linebacker and his knowledge of the system certainly helps. The team has been quiet in free agency and Jon Bostic is always an option to bring back, albeit not a great one.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner is still available and could step in as the Commanders MLB. He's seeking a deal worth $11 million annually and seems unlikely at this point, with Washington already looking towards the draft. The others at the position in free agency are less appealing, with Anthony Hitchens, Kwon Alexander and Alec Ogletree as some of the more recognizable names.
The draft will be the most likely path to find MLB and Washington will have options. In round 1, prospects Devin Llyod and Nakobe Dean lead the class as prospective MIKE linebackers. Both come with questions and are projected outside the top 25 picks.
Pick #11 could be a reach for both linebackers, unless Rivera and Del Rio envision either of them as instant impact players. After drafting Davis in round 1 last year, it seems more likely they could go another direction and add help for their new signal caller.
On Day 2-3 of the draft evaluating the linebackers can be be tricky, with many being projected as weak side linebackers, rather than middle linebackers. Prospects such as; Alabama's Christian Harris, Wyoming's Chad Muma, UCin's Darrian Beavers, Nebraska's JoJo Domann and the most intriguing small school linebacker, Montana State's Troy Anderson are all potential high ceiling developmental middle linebackers.
The loss of their 3rd round selection included in the Wentz trade, could limit some of the early round risks Washington takes. A trade back scenario will certainly be in play, with teams potentially moving up to grab a QB. This would be an ideal option to recoup the 3rd round pick Washington lost and possibly accrue more picks.
Free agency seems like an unlikely path for a MLB at this point, but there's always cap casualties post draft and a high-upside veteran could become available.
Having a MLB that can effectively call out adjustments and align his teammates pre-snap is imperative for the defense to flow. In year four, Holcomb could be the best option if they pass on a MLB in the draft, so here's hoping it's a breakout season for the former Tar Heel.