Watch Now: Micah Parsons Opts Out For Penn State (1:39)

Just how good is Micah Parsons, another prominent 2021 NFL Draft prospect to opt out of the college football season? The massive 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker was a first-team All-American in 2019 after landing on the freshman All-American team in 2018. He was the No. 5 overall recruit in the 2018 class per 247 Sports and met expectations from the jump at Penn State. 

Now, let’s go a little deeper on Parsons, a premier linebacker prospect, who’ll spend the year training for the NFL instead of playing collegiate football in the Big Ten.

Football background

There was no acclimation process for Parsons. Didn’t need one. He logged full-time snaps as a true freshman at middle linebacker — after playing defensive end in high school — and made 82 tackles with four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles at 19 years old. It was a quintessential PaulRuddNotBad.gif season.

Last season, Parsons emerged as one of, if not the best defender on the team. He made 109 tackles (14 of which were behind the line) with five sacks, five pass breakups, and four forced fumbles. 

Strengths

I have to start with Parsons’ physical profile. Not just because that’s how most scouting reports begin, but mostly because Parsons is that impressive off the team bus. He carries 245 extraordinarily well at 6-foot-3, and while that size indicates he’s too big for the speed of the NFL, it doesn’t hinder his explosiveness whatsoever, likely because he’s tall. Parsons is a menacing defender when ranging toward the sideline, because he’s very fast and large. Once he gets going in one direction, he glides like a much smaller player. 

Parsons is an absolute rock as a run defender, and his size helps him among the trees between the tackles. He leans into blockers and separates from them with ease, and his hands are heavy when he needs to use them. His dynamic lower half and long arms provide him a gigantic tackling radius, plus he rarely misses tackles. Parsons is more of a textbook, wrap-up tackler than someone who routinely looks for the highlight hit and dives uncontrollably at the ball carrier. I love that about his game. 

Parsons is nearly as big as most tight ends and can run with them, but I like him better in zone because his intelligence can really shine. He’s lightning quick reacting to route concepts and diagnosing play designs. 

Lastly, Parsons is an oversized bullet as a pass rusher, and his film is littered with pressure creation when deployed off the edge or simply as a blitzer through one of the inside gaps. His time as a defensive end during high school likely factors in here and provides a luxury most linebacker prospect — even the good ones — don’t possess. 

Weaknesses 

For as explosive as Parsons is — particularly for his size — there is some slight stiffness when changing directions. Don’t get me wrong — he’s pretty flexible in the ankles and hips, and there’s some twitchiness to his movements. It’s just that suddenness at 225 pounds is almost always going to be more impressive than at 245 like Parsons is. Shedding some weight in the NFL would do Parsons good when it comes to stopping and exploding in another direction. 

While he was much more comfortable drifting in coverage as a sophomore than he was in 2018, Parsons does only have five career pass breakups and no interceptions (although there are some dropped picks on his resume). 

NFL comparison 

Floor: Rolando McClain
Middle: K.J. Wright
Ceiling: Luke Kuechly

As I did with my scouting reports on Virginia Tech corner Caleb Farley and Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman, I’m going with a floor/middle ground/ceiling comparison for Parsons because it gives a good general idea of the type of player he is and provide a broad range of outcomes for his level of success in the NFL when considering factors outside his control (coaching, scheme, etc.) once he gets to the league. 

McClain had a strange odyssey in the NFL after going No. 8 overall in the 2010 draft. After two strong seasons to start his career with the Oakland Raiders, his play (mostly in coverage) dipped and led to him losing snaps when the defense used its nickel package. Things went off the rails with the Raiders coaching staff after that, and upon his release, he signed with the Ravens but retired at the age of 23. The Cowboys traded for McClain, and he had two successful seasons as the middle linebacker with a grand total of six pass breakups and two picks along with stellar run-stopping play. While he never met the immense hype he carried with him from Alabama, the large linebacker did have two instances of productive play in back-to-back seasons. 

Wright has been the most underrated member of the Seahawks defense for almost a decade now, and was basically unheard of during the Legion of Boom’s heyday despite being a key, new-age second-level defender. At 6-foot-3 and around 250 pounds, Wright is similarly sized to Parsons, and he’s always played with outstanding run-stopping range and comfort in coverage. He’s made just one Pro Bowl but has been a steady force for Pete Carroll during his nine-year career. He’s gone over 100 tackles five times and has never had fewer than three pass breakups in one season. While there’s not major name recognition with Wright — who plays in shadows of Bobby Wagner — he’s a damn good football player. 

Kuechly was a top-10 pick in 2012, has been a first-team All-Pro on five occasions, and is potentially a future Hall of Famer. All that makes this quite the high ceiling for a Parsons comparison. But his size, explosion, tackling reliability, block-shedding mastery, and coverage intelligence are Kuechly-esque.