He opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. And still, unassisted by the skew of recency bias, Micah Parsons remains the consensus top linebacker prospect in the NFL draft. What makes Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons so enticing? Why has his draft reputation been able to withstand a season of inactivity so easily? It takes a special skill set to make that happen, and that’s what Parsons has.
Micah Parsons NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 245 pounds
School: Penn State
Current Year: Junior
You just know some players are going to be great. That was the case for Micah Parsons.
Occasionally, you’ll hear about do-it-all prospects. Parsons was the literal embodiment of the do-it-all prospect from his earliest days of football. He played defensive end in high school but also doubled as a running back and even logged some limited experience as a return man.
Parsons didn’t just fulfill several roles, either. He dominated in those roles. As a 6-foot-3, 241-pound defensive end, Parsons amassed 41.5 sacks and 64.5 tackles for loss over a three-year span. He also supplemented those figures with 245 total tackles, five forced fumbles, two interceptions, and four passes defended.
From high school to campus
In his senior season, Parsons transferred from Central Dauphin High School to Harrisburg High. There, Parsons became a running back in the mold of Derrick Henry. Rumbling through inferior defenders, Parsons put up 1,239 yards and 27 touchdowns on just 109 carries. Additionally, he caught three passes for 99 yards and two scores.
Unsurprisingly, Parsons was a five-star prospect. Ranked as the seventh overall player in the 2018 recruiting class and the top player in the state of Pennsylvania, Parsons had offers from Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, and over a dozen other hopeful Power Five schools. Ultimately, Parsons chose to attend Penn State. The Nittany Lions were close to home, and they offered a renowned training program for athletes such as Parsons.
Micah Parsons’ career with the Penn State Nittany Lions
It wasn’t long after Parsons arrived at Penn State that James Franklin would experiment with his elite athleticism. Franklin moved Parsons to middle linebacker. There, Parsons would presumably be able to use his explosiveness in space more often. He’d also be able to utilize his prowess as a pass rusher on blitzing downs.
The move to linebacker paid its dividends quickly for Parsons. He saw immediate action as a true freshman for the Nittany Lions in 2018. Although he only officially started one game, he remained a constant fixture on defense, logging 82 total tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. He missed out on Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors; Rondale Moore took that instead. But it wouldn’t matter; Parsons’ best was yet to come.
Revisiting Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons’ breakout 2019 campaign
In 2019, Parsons made a long-anticipated leap, closing in on the potential so many saw in him two years prior. Emerging as a leader on defense, Parsons started 12 of 13 games played, accumulating 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, four forced fumbles, and five pass deflections. His year was punctuated by a dominant performance at the Cotton Bowl, where Parsons notched 14 tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles.
For his exemplary production, Parsons was named the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year. Additionally, he earned All-American marks across the board, distinguishing himself as not just one of the best at his position, but one of the best overall defensive players in the NCAA.
Under normal circumstances, Parsons would have played and thrived in 2020. But after two seasons at Penn State, Parsons opted out of the 2020 season. Parsons decided to use the football months to prepare for his inevitable draft ascension, and he also aimed to protect his two-year-old son Malcolm, who would be more susceptible to possible health implications.
Micah Parsons has a potentially transcendent NFL Draft skill set
It’s almost cheating to have Parsons on your list of favorites because he should be on everyone’s list. Rarely does a prospect have such a vast blend of athletic upside and engrained versatility at the collegiate level.
Parsons is an imposing specimen at 6-foot-3, 245. He has good length for his frame, and it’s clear watching him that the Penn State linebacker is bigger and faster than a lot of the players in the second level.
What stands out most upon watching Parsons is his closing speed; Parsons has incredible sideline-to-sideline range. In pursuit, his ability to explode out of direction changes is vital. Parsons gears up quickly, and thus, he can cover a lot of ground in a short time span.
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Lost amidst Parsons’ ranginess, however, is the fact that Parsons is also effective in congestion. He’s an extremely jittery player whose acceleration ability allows him to be patient at the line of scrimmage and read his gaps. There are times where Parsons either pulls the trigger too soon or too late, but his elite change-of-direction skills and long-range explosiveness help him recover with ease.
Parsons’ skill set makes him one of the most exciting off-ball linebackers in the draft. His range serves him well both as a run defender and a pass defender. But what makes Parsons exciting even beyond that is his ability to rush the passer. Parsons’ experience as a former defensive end affords him the ferocity that other linebackers lack when blitzing.
Parsons comes downhill with searing speed, and on the blitz, he’s a scary weapon that offenses will struggle to prepare for.
Micah Parsons’ best fits in the NFL Draft
Micah Parsons is an elite linebacker prospect. But more than that, he’s an elite potential chess piece at the NFL level. He likely won’t last past the top 10 picks, so the Penn State linebacker’s best fits will be reserved for those who’ll have an opportunity to select him.
In truth, the Panthers, Eagles, Cowboys, Chargers, and Giants could all use a player like Parsons, but his best fit in the top 10 might be the Miami Dolphins. Miami head coach Brian Flores loves using deception on the second level, disguising blitzes, and feigning heavy rushes to throw passing attacks off-balance. Parsons would enable Flores to indulge in that core competency even more. His profile makes him a nightmare for offenses who prefer more predictable opponents.
Additionally, the Falcons also present a potential fit for Parsons. In his recent three-round NFL mock draft, A.J. Schulte matched Parsons with the Falcons, citing their need for an infusion of new talent on the defensive side of the ball. Starved for both pass-rushing production and a catalyst at linebacker, Parsons could be exactly what Atlanta needs to get back to respectability.
Whatever the case, Micah Parsons will be a coveted player in the 2021 NFL Draft. The linebacker class got stronger over the course of 2020, with players like Zaven Collins, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and others making strides in the autumn months. But with his elite athleticism and versatility, Parsons is still at the top of the list, and he seems due for more greatness on the greatest stage.