Penn State once had a proud tradition of putting excellent linebackers into the NFL. That has fallen off of late, with Sean Lee and NaVorro Bowman being the last great linebackers from Penn State to make their mark in the NFL, drafted all the way back in 2010.
The 2021 NFL Draft could see that tradition restored as Micah Parsons enters the draft.
Parsons’ stock has been volatile over the course of the draft process, with him being reckoned a top-5 pick at times, and slipping to the bottom of the first round in others. Parsons was the top defensive player on just about everyone’s board coming into the 2020 season, but a decision to opt out opened the door for questions. Other players performing and some questions regarding his off-field character lead to the dips in his stock, but a phenomenal Pro Day workout stabilized his status as a top defender.
Parsons has frequently been mocked to the New York Giants over the course of the draft process. Could he be the linebacker Giants’ fans have been waiting for?
Prospect: Micah Parsons
Games Watched: vs. Michigan (2019), vs. Iowa (2019), vs. Minnesota (2019), vs. Memphis (2019)
Games Played: 26
Tackles For a loss: 18.0
Forced Fumbles: 6
Passes Defensed: 5
Games Played: 13
Tackles For a loss: 14.0
Forced Fumbles: 4
Passes Defensed: 5
Best: Size, athletic ability, instincts, competitive toughness
Worst: Inconsistent hand usage, over-aggressiveness
Projection: Starting linebacker with scheme and positional diversity.
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons has prototypical size, speed, and agility for the position. He has good size in his upper and lower body, while carrying his weight well and maintaining his athleticism.
Parsons is active in the pre-snap phase of the play, moving around the defensive formation to disguise his intentions. He is also an active communicator before the snap as well, communicating with his teammates to make adjustments to their alignments. Parsons shows good football IQ and quick mental processing at the snap of the ball. He routinely takes an accurate first step, positioning himself in the path of the play with the minimum of wasted time and movement.
Parsons is an excellent athlete at the position, showing explosive acceleration downhill, good lateral range, and the ability to turn and run with most tight ends and running backs. He moves easily in coverage, quickly getting depth in shallow to intermediate zone covareges. Likewise, he has great range at the second level, easily pacing running backs on swing passes or covering ground to defend screen plays.
Parsons has a background as a defensive end, which gives him added upside as a pass rusher. He shows good body control to “get skinny” when attacking gaps, and does a good job of using his hands to keep himself clean through the line of scrimmage. Parsons combines an explosive burst and raw speed with good timing to make him a threat off the edge or through an interior gap.
He plays with good competitive toughness, routinely fighting through blocks or pursuing plays sideline-to-sideline, through the echo of the whistle. He has good gap discipline as a run defender, quickly coming up to fill his assigned gap and is willing to take on blockers in the run game. Parsons is a reliable tackler who generally uses good form to bring down ball carriers and limit yards after contact.
Parsons shows the ability to stack and shed tight ends, fullbacks, and offensive linemen, but needs to be more consistent in using his hands. He has a tendency to dip a shoulder as if he was using a rip move, but not use his hands. Parsons also has a tendency to play high and would be even more effective taking on blockers with consistently lower pad level and better leverage. He can also be stiff and upright in his backpedal when asked to make deeper drops.
Overall Grade: 9.4 - This prospect has a well-rounded game with the mental and athletic traits to be an impact starter immediately. He should get Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors before his second contract.
Parsons projects as a starting linebacker with true scheme and positional versatility at the NFL level. Parsons has the athleticism and versatility to play as a middle linebacker in 4-3 front or as a weak-inside linebacker in a 3-4 front. His background as a defensive end also allows him to play close to the line of scrimmage as a SAM linebacker or as a stand-up rusher. However, it should be noted that he doesn’t quite have the length to play on the line of scrimmage full time, and his versatility will encourage coaches to move him around.
Parsons has the kind of football IQ, instincts, mental processing, and competitive toughness you want to see from a linebacker, and could conceivably be the leader of a defense. He never gives up on a play and is willing and able to pursue a play across the field. He’s a reliable tackler when he gets to the play, using good form to limit yards after contact and delivers hits with authority.
While Parsons is very active before the snap, there is little wasted motion from him after the snap, and he generally takes an accurate first step to the ball. That being said, he is a very aggressive player, which can border on over-aggressiveness. He can occasionally run himself out of plays by taking very aggressive angles to the ball and taking himself out of position.
He shows a good feel for rushing the passer, timing his blitzes well to shoot gaps into the backfield. His DE background shows in his ability to use his hands to keep himself clean around the line of scrimmage, while his body control and speed allow him to squeeze through gaps before blockers can properly react. Parsons can be a headache for offenses as he is generally too powerful for running backs, fullbacks, and tight ends to block one-on-one, and too quick for offensive linemen to block easily.
Parsons is capable in coverage, with good awareness of the play and good movement skills in space for a linebacker. He is able to turn and run with most running backs and tight ends in man coverage and generally shows good awareness in zone coverage.
That being said, he isn’t a DB/LB hybrid, and his roots on the defensive line are evident when asked to backpedal any distance. He is stiff and upright in a backpedal and generally doesn’t look comfortable. Defensive coordinators would do well to limit his coverage responsibilities to zones in the shallow or intermediate area, or put him in position to play downhill.
There are few real weaknesses in Parsons’ game, and he should be an impact player in any modern “multiple” defense.