With the Redskins taking off for training camp in about a month, Redskins.com will take a deeper look at the new faces of the organization and what we’ve learned regarding their football and life background.
Next up is fifth-round linebacker Cole Holcomb.
1. Holcomb began his college career at North Carolina as a walk-on.
In high school, Holcomb started only four games at linebacker after playing the majority of his time at safety and tight end. This gave him very little recruiting interest right out the gate. He received an offer from Air Force and a few smaller schools but decided to take the gamble and walk on for the Tar Heels.
“When I got to UNC I was 194-195 pounds,” Holcomb explained after his final home game at UNC. “I needed to be able to put some weight on and learn how to do things. I needed that extra year under my belt. I’ve definitely surpassed my goals since then.”
Those years under the wing of his teammates and coaches built the 6-foot-1, 231 pound tackler that appeared at pro day. From walking on to earning a full scholarship, Holcomb knows that developing into the ideal player is a necessity when transitioning levels of play.
From walk-on to NFL draftee, Holcomb set himself apart from the competition while at North Carolina. In fact, he was the only player drafted from the Tar heels in 2019.
Take a look at photos of the Redskins 173rd 2019 NFL Draft pick, LB Cole Holcomb.
2. He led the Tar Heels in tackles in each of the last three seasons.
In his redshirt-sophomore year, Holcomb started all 13 games at outside linebacker where he finished fifth in the ACC in tackles per game (8.8 avg.) and led the team with 115 tackles. He accumulated 5.0 tackles for loss, five pass breakups and one sack and matched a team-best 10 tackles in the Sun Bowl.
The next season, he started the first 11 games of the season and led the team in tackles for the second year in a row with 93. That year he ranked sixth in the ACC with 8.5 tackles per game and had 2.5 tackles, including a sack, a fumble recovery, four QB hurries and three pass breakups.
Holcomb appeared in all 11 games and started 10 at linebacker during his final season with the Tar Heels. He earned second-team All-ACC honors after tallying 105 tackles. Those 105 tackles led the team for the third consecutive year meanwhile his 9.5 tackles per game led the ACC and ranked 31st nationally.
3. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden was the biggest advocate for drafting Holcomb.
Eric Shaffer, Senior Vice President of football operations and general counsel, appeared on Doc Walker's Team980 show for an interview on June 14th to discuss this year's team. Scouting efforts brought the likes of Dwayne Haskins into the mix, but Jay Gruden was a big proponent for drafting Holcomb.
“Jay Gruden does the work, he watches the tape," Schaffer said. "He’ll have strong opinions [on the players]. He was very instruamental in the Redskins drafting [Matt] Ioannidis and had some really strong opinions on guys this year. I think Cole Holcomb out of North Carolina was one of those guys that Jay really stood up for.”
In the post draft presser, Gruden seemed eager to talk about his new acquisition. The Redskins' draft saw a majority of offensive players, which brings Holcomb and a few others into an already top-10 defense.
“When you’re looking at linebackers this day in age you want to make sure they have the ability to cover in space and that’s his gift is, he’s very good out in space,” Gruden said after drafting Holcomb. “This guy can cover out in space and I think he’s got the physicality to him, I’ve seen him take on blocks and do some great things in that regard.”
4. Holcomb turned heads with his measurables at Pro Day.
“He had twenty-two tackles against Army.” Gruden said after the 2019 NFL Draft. “I saw that game and watched a lot of him and I just wondered why he wasn’t as highly touted as these other guys because he has the speed, he ran a 4.48 I think at his pro day, like a 38-inch vertical."
Stats aren't everything when it comes to selecting the right player. Production within his program and his consistent impact for the Tar Heels are also things that stand out on film.
"So he tested out of the moon so you say ‘oh, he’s just a tester’. No, he had one-hundred tackles three years in a row. He’s had production so I think it’s a great pick in that spot and I’m excited to get him in here.”
5. The last UNC linebacker drafted by the Redskins is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Holcomb’s fifth-round selection was the only pick boasted by the Tar Heels, the first time that has happened since 2006. A number of North Carolina players have made an impact in the NFL, including several linebackers who Holcomb can mold his game after.
Lifelong Redskins linebacker Chris Hanburger spent 13 seasons in Washington where he earned nine Pro-Bowl berths and from 1966-1969 and 1972-1976 and was a five-time nomination for first-team All-Pro. In 1972, Hanburger earned the NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors which propelled his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame and the Redskins Ring of Fame, which both solidified him into the 70 Greatest Redskins.
"Once I got there, I realized I could do this,” Holcomb said after the draft. “I had people believing in me and telling me you could do it. Once we got there, you see who you're going against and the level, it's 'You can do this.' That was kind of the thing. Once I got there, the goals changed very quickly."
6. He’s one of only six players to ever make it from his hometown to the NFL.
Holcomb left the eastern coast of Florida for North Carolina in 2014, but the small county of New Smyrna Beach hasn’t seen a consistent NFL talent for some time.
The last athlete that came before Holcomb was Raheem Mostert, who emerged into the NFL in 2015. Since then, Mostert has played with seven different teams in three seasons. In years prior, several athletes attempted to make it out but spent less than one season with several different teams. The only long-lasting player was wide receiver Wes Chandler from 1978-1988.
Holcomb could be the one to end the slump for his home county.
7. Rob Ryan sees his potential.
The Redskins hired Rob Ryan this offseason as the inside linebackers coach. His resume as a defensive coordinator translates well into his first skill position job in many years.
“I've been very impressed with Cole Holcomb, the way he's running around there," Ryan said during OTAs. "He's fast, athletic."
Holcomb joins an esteemed linebacker group with veterans Mason Foster and Jon Bostic, as well as young teammate Shaun Dion Hamilton. These teammates, along with Ryan, will surely ease the transition between college and the NFL while making changes to his game in the upcoming weeks at training camp.