Micah Parsons’ Bulk and Official Position Swap Is Good News for Cowboys Defense

Micah Parsons' bulk to transition full-time to the edge is good news for the Cowboys' defense. The most valuable defensive player in the NFL gets to specialize.

Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Micah Parsons is the quintessential Gen Z-er. He remains chronically online in his downtime, tweeting and replying to tweets from others throughout the day. But he’s also an unimaginably talented football player who has been somewhat limited by the versatility he needed to have early in his NFL career. And by moving full-time to the edge, Parsons also knows where his bread will be buttered when he becomes eligible for a long-term extension after the upcoming season.

Micah Parsons Bulking To Play EDGE Full-Time

The highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL in terms of base salary is Roquan Smith at $20 million. The highest-paid edge rusher is T.J. Watt, who makes $28 million annually.

On the interior, Aaron Donald makes over $30 million, and that’s likely where negotiations will start with Parsons. Making the move to being a full-time pass rusher means there won’t be any sort of LB bargaining chip played by the Jones family, as many teams play with high-volume tight ends. No, Parsons will push the top of the market.

Parsons will push his weight up a bit to better handle the physical toll of playing on the defensive line for 70% of a team’s defensive snaps. Although he’s incredibly powerful for a 245-pound outside linebacker, Parsons is still outweighed by 50+ pounds on nearly every snap.

But it appears Parsons is honest and understands how the muscle-building process works. We often hear stories about NFL Draft prospects “gaining 10 pounds of muscle” during their pre-draft training, which is a four-month or so time span. These are some of the best athletes in the world, and they are unequivocally not gaining anywhere close to 10 pounds of lean muscle tissue.

Obi Obadike is a former Division I sprinter who holds school records at Cal State Fullerton, holds B.A/B.S. and M.S. degrees, and is a certified nutritionist specialist and certified trainer with ISSA. There are a ton of gimmicks out there about muscle gain, but he knows his stuff.

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“In my opinion, it’s rare to see a natural bodybuilder or fitness enthusiast close to their genetic muscular potential gain more than 2-3 pounds of lean muscle in a year,” Obadike wrote in a Bodybuilding.com forum. “This is why it’s an accomplishment when experienced bodybuilders manage to gain 7-10 pounds of fat-free muscle in a year.”

There are those who can recomp their body or build that much muscle early in their fitness journeys with strict dieting and an optimized lifting program. But once you get to Parsons’ level of freak fitness, adding 2-3 pounds in a year is the goal.

And he understands that.

“Lol people here bulk and think I’m going from 246-270,” Parsons tweeted. “If you seen any of my videos I’m still very slim and I’m putting on good weight! I’m standing at 252 currently! I will not surpass 255 at anytime in my career! This is just me putting on more muscle to carry the load!”

If you see an NFL player legitimately put on 10 pounds of muscle in a year, expect that two-to-six-game suspension to hit at some point, because they didn’t do it with protein powder and creatine.

Now Parsons could probably gain more lean muscle tissue if he ate in a larger caloric surplus, got a bit more fluffy, and then cut down when camp started in August. For a bodybuilder, that’s the best way to maximize muscle growth because they’re constantly working in a larger surplus and have more energy to add volume and intensity to workouts.

Yet, for an NFL player like Parsons, who needs to remain as functional and explosive as possible throughout his training cycle, he’s going about this in an incredibly professional fashion.

Parsons’ Versatility Is Awesome, but His Pass Rush Is Awesomer

There’s a reason linebackers are paid less than pass rushers. And there’s a reason why Parsons was immediately transitioned from college LB, who occasionally rushed the passer, to a mostly full-time pass rusher by the end of his second NFL season. It wasn’t because the Cowboys were fielding Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher at linebacker, either.

In fact, the Cowboys’ LB room is, and, has been, a bit underwhelming since the 2018 breakout year of Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. It simply doesn’t matter. Vander Esch returned to form in 2022, and the presence of Johnathan Hankins on the defensive interior helped anchor Dallas’ run defense and allow the superior athleticism they possess at eight of the other positions to thrive.

Adding Mazi Smith to that rotation is icing on the cake with a ridiculous amount of upside for Year 2 and beyond as a pass rusher and run defender. But Dallas played three safeties over 900 snaps in 2022, and that’s because Jayron Kearse is essentially the team’s LB2. He allows them to play a bit smaller and faster while not giving up too much of a box presence. Meanwhile, Dallas continues to throw young bodies at the LB room until something sticks.

The “issue” with playing Parsons exclusively on the edge is that it forces him off the field. Linebackers can play 100% of the defensive snaps throughout the course of a game. A 250-pound OLB crashing into offensive tackles on every down cannot. And Parsons is arguably the most valuable defensive player in the NFL.

According to Sports Info Solutions, opponents passing EPA per play was 0.25 with him off the field and -0.18 with Parsons on the field. The Eagles led the NFL in defensive dropback EPA in 2022 with a -0.087 mark. That means the Cowboys’ defense with Parsons on the field was twice as productive as the best defensive mark in the league.

The Bears had the worst defensive dropback EPA in the NFL at 0.212. That means with Parsons off the field, the Cowboys’ passing defense went from by far the best in the league to the very worst.

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Still, making the switch to full-time pass rusher is unquestionably the correct course of action. Parsons can now focus ALL of his attention on sharpening the tools in his pass-rush repertoire. Adding more nuance to an already unfair physical advantage with his power and explosion is a devastating development for opposing offensive linemen.

Add in the CVS receipt of DL games and alignments that Dan Quinn uses to take advantage of opposing offensive lines, and Parsons could be ready to take that next step toward leading the NFL in pressures and sacks in 2023.

The real goal for Parsons, though, in adding weight isn’t necessarily a talent thing. Parsons wants to get sturdier so he’s not as susceptible to the bumps and bruises he’s suffered over his first few years in the league. Every NFL player will have ailments by the end of the year, but mitigating potential issues by adding a bit of bulk was an intelligent move by the 23-year-old.

And if Parsons gets a little stronger and a little more technical off the edge, he could separate himself as the league’s premier pass rusher.

Dalton Miller is Pro Football Network’s Lead NFL Analyst. You can read all of Dalton’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @daltonbmiller.

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