The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the opinion of the team.
With Super Bowl LV capping off the 2020 season, it is time to look ahead to the 2021 campaign.
Over the next few weeks, Washingtonfootball.com will break down the position groups and lay out who the team could potentially add via free agency and the draft. These are the positions that have been covered so far:
Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End Offensive Line Defensive Tackle Defensive End
Next up are the linebackers:
Head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio played linebacker for a combined 20 seasons in the NFL. They have coached in the league for 46 more. If anyone knows the position, it is the two men leading Washington's defense.
And in their minds, the linebackers continued to improve throughout the season, helping Washington complete its NFC East title run.
"I like the way Jon Bostic has been playing for us," Rivera said after the Steelers' win in December. "I think KPL has stepped it up. Seeing Thomas Davis get out there and take advantage of the snaps he's getting. As a group, I think they're playing a lot better physically going downhill. I think a lot of it stems from Cole [Holcomb]'s presence out there."
Cole Holcomb, who missed five games early in the season with an injury, was solid in all facets, finishing the regular season with an overall Pro Football Focus grade of 72.0, which was 19th among all linebackers. The 2019 fifth-round pick also showed he is more than just a tackling machine -- he racked up 105 as a rookie -- by notching 2.5 sacks, a pass breakup and his first-career interception.
"Cole's had a great impact for us this year," Del Rio said before Week 16. "He's a good football player. I think he's a young, developing linebacker and seeing tremendous improvement throughout the course of the season. Getting him back and having him healthy, having him available is obviously a big plus for us."
Speaking of being around the football, no Washington player has more tackles over the past two seasons than veteran journeyman Jon Bostic. He is intelligent, durable, consistent and an above-average tackler, all of which made him a reliable middle linebacker.
Kevin Pierre-Louis was by far the team's best coverage linebacker and one of the best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and he put up career numbers in his first season as a full-time starter. However, once Holcomb was fully healthy, Pierre-Louis was relegated to more of a reserve role before suffering an ankle injury later in the year. He did not play a defensive snap in Washington's playoff game while Bostic and Holcomb played 100% and 97%, respectively.
Holcomb and Bostic are both under contract, as are 2020 fifth-round rookie Khaleke Hudson, practice squad mainstay Jordan Kunaszyk and opt-out Josh Harvey-Clemons. The most intriguing of the three seems to be Hudson because of his versatile skillset, immediate special teams contributions and defensive growth by the end of his first professional campaign.
When asked about cornerback Fabian Moreau getting more playing time before Washington's playoff game, Rivera brought up Hudson unprompted.
"It's the same thing with Khaleke. Here's a guy that we drafted out of Michigan that played the big nickel position. We had a big nickel in Kam [Curl]. Then we had to move him to safety and we kind of forgot about it. Then talking with Jack, we realized he was a guy that we did. Then, we threw him out there in a little bit of that as well. We have some guys that we want to see a little more from and give more opportunities, but there's only so much in a game."
Meanwhile, Pierre-Louis is set to become a free agent for the fifth time in as many seasons. Other impending free agents include Jared Norris, who mostly played special teams, veteran Mychal Kendricks, an injury-induced signing in December, and former first-rounder Reuben Foster, who missed the past two seasons recovering from a serious knee injury. Rounding out the group is Thomas Davis Sr., who retired after an illustrious 16-year career.
The consensus top linebacker entering free agency is Lavonte David, a nine-year veteran coming off a second-team All-Pro campaign with the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But if what head coach Bruce Arians said to David at the championship parade holds true -- "Your a-- ain't going nowhere" -- then the 31-year-old may not even hit the open market.
An intriguing younger option is the Buffalo Bills' Matt Milano. A fifth-round pick in 2017, he's proved to be a capable three-down outside linebacker whose speed and athleticism help him excel in pass coverage. If Pierre-Louis departs in free agency, Milano, 26, could fill the weakside linebacker spot.
Other options include Jayon Brown (Titans), Denzel Perryman, (Chargers), Reggie Ragland (Lions), Anthony Walker (Colts), Eric Wilson (Vikings), and K.J. Wright (Seahawks). Check out a list of all of the impending free agent linebackers, HERE
Penn State phenom Micah Parsons will likely be off the board, but prospects such as Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame), Nick Bolton (Missouri), Jabril Cox (LSU) and Zaven Collins (Tulsa) could all be available when Washington picks 19th in the 2021 NFL Draft. Check out a list of all the prospects, HERE.