2021 NFL Draft: Micah Parsons is the next great linebacker prospect

The Miami Dolphins select Micah Parsons in the first round of this 2021 NFL mock draft (Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images)
The Miami Dolphins select Micah Parsons in the first round of this 2021 NFL mock draft (Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images) /

Micah Parsons is one of the best players in the 2021 NFL Draft class.

Over the past couple of years, the NFL draft has featured a highly touted linebacker prospect that has caught many a watchful eye. The 2018 draft had Roquan Smith, the 2019 draft had Devin White, and this past draft featured one of the most intriguing prospects in recent memory, Isaiah Simmons. The 2021 draft is no different and this year we could see yet another linebacker get drafted inside the top ten. That player is Penn State linebacker, Micah Parsons.

Unfortunately, we won’t see him play this season as he, along with a few other college football stars, decided to opt-out of the 2020-21 season due to coronavirus concerns. It is extremely disappointing that he decided not to play because It would be great to see any improvements he may have made over the offseason. Nevertheless, there is a lot to like about his game, and it is easy to see why he has become one of the most highly regarded prospects in the 2021 NFL draft.

To be successful as a linebacker in the modern age of football, you must be a gifted athlete. Every team in the NFL is trying to catch up with Patrick Mahomes and build their roster to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs. The way you do that is by adding speed to your team.

The Cardinals and Broncos both used this strategy in the draft last year, as Arizona selected Isaiah Simmons at number 8 and Denver selected Jerry Jeudy and K.J Hamler within the first three rounds.  There are a ton of high-powered offenses besides the Chiefs in the NFL as well, so having sub-par athleticism puts you at a major disadvantage.

This is something that Parsons does not struggle with at all. We don’t have official combine measurements, but according to Lions247, the star linebacker‘s 40-yard dash time was listed at 4.43 on Penn State’s weight room testing board in February. That is incredible, especially for a player who sports a bulky 6’3 245-lb. frame.

His elite speed, combined with his size, will make Parsons a versatile linebacker in the NFL. He’s fast enough to cover running backs and receivers, and he has the size to match up with tight ends.  That kind of versatility is extremely valuable at the next level considering how prevalent pass-heavy offenses are today.

Parsons’ best quality is his discipline. At just 20 years old last season, he consistently made the right decision in coverage and rarely found himself out of position. In the Cotton Bowl last year, Memphis ran a reverse to get the Penn State defense off balance. If the play worked out, the receiver could get to the outside and gain a lot of yards.

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The play began with a fake handoff to the running back and then the quarterback gave the ball to the receiver. Parsons saw that it was a fake handoff and shot toward the sideline to make sure the receiver couldn’t get outside leverage and disrupted the play. Even if he didn’t get credit for the tackle, his quick play recognition is the reason why the play didn’t work.

His instincts combined with his physical tools make Parsons a very good coverage linebacker as well. He has 4.4 speed and flexible hips so he’s able to cover ground quickly and change directions on a dime if he finds himself out of position. Parsons’ lone pass deflection vs Pittsburgh last season is a perfect example of his coverage skills.

On that play, Penn State ran cover 3 so Pittsburgh ran a divide concept (a streak and a
post) on the left side and a go route and seam route on the right to create an advantage. Cover 3
defenses are designed to stop teams from going deep. To do that, the defense has both corners
and one safety in a deep third, meaning they have to cover a third of the field and make sure no
one beats them deep for a big gain or a touchdown.

The weakness of a cover 3 defense is in the seams (the area between the deep safety and the
corner) so teams will usually have a receiver running a seam route to attack that area of the field.
Pittsburgh wants the safety to gravitate towards the seam route so they can hit the
post route going past the linebackers.

The quarterback didn’t do a good enough job manipulating the safety with his eyes, so the safety didn’t cover the seam route and they didn’t have an advantage. Micah Parsons saw the post route coming and immediately ran with the receiver to disrupt the play. The quarterback tried to fit the ball in a very tight window, but Parsons was in a position to make a play and jumped to deflect the pass.

The play recognition and hip flexibility from Parsons on this play were very impressive. Reading
what’s happening behind you is incredibly difficult, but that’s what linebackers are asked to do,
and Micah Parsons does it very well.

As mentioned earlier, Parsons is a versatile linebacker with fantastic physical tools. His speed pops off the screen when he blitzes, and his ability to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback takes him from a good prospect to a great one. In 2019 Parsons recorded 14 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. His numbers are very similar to those of Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White who averaged around 13 tackles for loss and 4 sacks in his final two seasons at LSU.

His burst is marvelous, and the amount of time it takes for him to get into the backfield is unfair. On a strip-sack against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl last season, Parsons traveled ten yards in just under two seconds, which is absolutely incredible.

There are a few things Parsons needs to work on as he trains in preparation for the draft. His coverage skills are adequate, but he recorded zero interceptions in college and dropped at least one interception last season. His zero interceptions in three seasons at Penn State shouldn’t be a huge concern, but when he gets his hands on the football, he needs to come down with it.

This isn’t his fault, but he rarely matched up man-to-man with a running back in college, so It would be helpful to see him get some reps in that situation. He has the speed and flexibility to cover running backs, but scouts won’t believe it until they see it.

Another issue with Parsons is his inability to disengage while being blocked by an offensive lineman. When offensive linemen get into the second level and engage him, he struggles to get off the block, thus impacting his effectiveness as a run defender. If he cleans that up, we could be looking at a very special player.

Next. Top 2021 prospect at each position. dark

In every sport, whether it’s football, basketball, or baseball, players who can do multiple things at a high level are usually the best in their respective leagues. Versatility is king, and Micah Parsons provides the level of versatility required to be a great linebacker. It would be great to see him improve over the offseason and come back for one more year, but his film is good enough for him to get selected in the first round and perhaps even top-10.