In just his second NFL season, Tampa Bay’s Devin White ascended into elite territory at the linebacker position — 140 total tackles (97 solos), nine sacks, a forced fumble and the most fantasy points among linebackers in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
Micah Parsons didn’t enjoy that level of success collegiately at Penn State in 2020. As a matter of fact, the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder didn’t play at all, choosing to opt out of the season over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. But in spite of that year off, at least one pro exec told Greg Pickel of Penn Live that he believes that Parsons has the potential to be an even better pro than White.
“He can be a game-changer,” the NFL personnel executive said. “Devin White, who I loved coming out of LSU, Micah is a much better prospect than him. Devin was very athletic, very fast, you see it on the NFL level. The one thing Micah has to do, is he has to use his hands inside vs. traffic to become the kind of player he has the potential to be. If he figures that out, he’s going to be a perennial All-Pro for as many years as he wants to be.”
Parsons was a force for Penn State two years ago, piling up 109 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks and four forced fumbles. In the opinion of Bob Sturm of the Athletic, there’s little question that among this year’s class of off-ball linebackers, Parsons is the cream of the crop.
“He is absolutely a physical freak with a crazy wingspan, size and speed that tell us he is your guy if you just want a banger of a linebacker who will patrol things for a long time at a high-level,” Sturm said. “He is a physical, downhill player who is a real bull in a china shop. He picks through traffic with expert precision and finds his target. He is mobile and finds multiple gaps and plays at high speeds. He wants to take on blocks, play soundly and do all the things you expect of a top linebacker. He usually reads the play and beats the blocks to the ball. He is a real force of nature and his close-down speed is elite.“
As Benjamin Raven of MLive pointed out, Parsons’ physical talents and natural ability is truly impressive.
“Parsons has been clocked in the 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash,” he said, “putting him on Bruce Feldman’s annual freak list. Pro Football Focus is all about that Parsons life, with three analysts sending him to Detroit in recent mocks. The analytics site also called him “the best college LB prospect since Luke Kuechly” before the pandemic-altered campaign.
Parsons was recruited at Penn State as a defensive end before transitioning to linebacker, and as Kyle Crabbs wrote for the Draft Network, his explosiveness through gaps at the line of scrimmage is something to see.
“Parsons, who was a prized recruit as a pass rusher coming out of high school, is still ironing out some of finer points of play processing on the second level but his freakish combination of size and explosiveness allow him to explode and drive into gaps when he sees the play develop and as a result, he’s a persistent winner of beating ball carriers and blockers to the spot between the tackles,” he said. “Parsons is an impact player on third downs, which significantly boosts his value to pro teams and masks some of the inexperiences of transitioning to stack linebacker. He’s a dynamic blitzer and has the versatility to rush against offensive linemen and claim victories to get home to the quarterback. Parsons has illustrated an incredible level of pure instinct for the game thus far.”
Parsons didn’t play a ton of coverage at Penn State, but to his credit when asked to do so he fared pretty well. But according to Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report, Parsons’ inexperience in coverage could create problems for the youngster in an NFL where teams spend so much time in passing subpackages.
“There’s a significant difference in how coaching staffs will game-plan to attack certain players between college and the NFL,“ Sobleski wrote.” He’ll also face a higher caliber of tight ends, running backs and slot receivers than the ones he squared off against in college. Despite his athleticism and potential, Parsons has yet to achieve the level of consistency he needs to excel in coverage, especially when opponents spread the field. Buffalo linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is an excellent example of a young, gifted player who entered the league with outstanding upside only to struggle in coverage during his first few seasons.”
If there’s a concern with Parsons that could cause him to fall outside the Top 10, it’s that lack of experience (and game film) in coverage. But the general consensus is that Parsons isn’t going to have to wait long to hear his name called, with Detroit singled out as a likely landing spot in more than a few mock drafts.
For dynasty IDP managers, Detroit would be a fine landing spot for Parsons — the team’s off-ball linebacker situations is, um, ungood. But Parsons has the talent and ability to be a difference-maker on defense regardless of where he lands. He’s blazing fast, wildly athletic, and powerful and has excellent instincts.
Calling him “the best linebacker prospect since Luke Kuechly” may be a bit hyperbolic (it is that time of year, after all), but it’s also not that far off.
Parsons has everything it takes to be a star.
However, as Sobleski relayed we are talking about a young defender who has just two years of playing off-ball linebacker under his belt and not that much experience playing in coverage. That comparison with Tremaine Edmunds is one that should give IDP managers at least a little pause — the 16th overall pick in the 2018 draft hasn’t been a bust by any stretch, but he has had some issues against the pass and hasn’t finished as a Top 20 fantasy option since his rookie year.
Parsons has as much IDP upside as any linebacker in recent memory — with the right coaching in the right spot he has the potential to be a high-end LB1 for years to come. Given that ridiculous ceiling, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Parsons isn’t both the first linebacker drafted in dynasty IDP leagues and the first IDP selected overall in 2021.
That status as IDP’s top dog among rookies will more likely than not extend to redraft formats as well. But until we see how things shake out in Cleveland on April 29, we can’t entirely rule out the possibility that a player like Tulsa’s Zaven Collins could land in a situation so much more favorable than Parsons in the short-term that it slides him past Parsons for at least one season.