Can help cover against tight ends and running backs
Can drop into zone coverage
Fires into the backfield
Asset to spy mobile quarterbacks
Strong, thick build
Good instincts, but not great
Can be overly aggressive at times
Could have some minor character concerns
Needs to work on taking on and shedding blocks
Summary: It is pretty rare to hear about Nick Saban and Alabama losing out on a player who they really want, but that was the case with Micah Parsons. The Crimson Tide wanted him patrolling the middle of their defense, but he decided to sign with James Franklin's Nittany Lions. Parsons quickly established himself as a starter for Penn State, leading the team in tackles as a freshman in 2018. On the year, he totaled 83 tackles with five for a loss, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Parsons was then even better as a sophomore, racking up 109 tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles and five passes defended. He decided to sit out the 2020 season before Penn State cancelled the season, and he did not re-join the Nittany Lions for their rescheduled season.
Parsons really jumps out on tape, as he made a lot of big plays for Penn State with clutch stops and a lot of disruption for the opponent. He has good size and strength to go along with speed and athleticism, and from a skill-set perspective, he is in the same league as other recent first-round linebackers like Devin White or Roquan Smith. Parsons is a do-it-all defender who supplies a big presence in the middle of the field.
Given the passing-driven moden game, a linebacker has to be a good player in coverage in order to be a first-round pick in an NFL draft, and Parsons has three-down starter ability and is an asset for defending the pass. He is very good in zone, covering a lot of ground in the middle of the field and covering the flat sideline-to-sideline. On top of being a functional zone linebacker, Parsons brings blitzing ability. He closes on the quarterback in a hurry and uses his vision and agility to dart through openings in the line to get pressure in the pocket. Parsons will be a nice linebacker in a blitzing scheme or for playing a lot of zone, like a Tampa 2 defense.
Parsons has the physical skill set to cover tight ends in man coverage. Thanks to his size and strength, tight ends can't push him around, and he has the speed to run with them down the seam. His NFL team should break Parsons in slowly in man-coverage situations because he sat out the 2020 season, but his ability there is something that should develop as he gains experience at the pro level.
Parsons is a tough run defender who demonstrates instinctiveness and read-and-react ability. He does a very nice job of reading his keys and then firing to the ball to limit runs. Parsons will quickly diagnose a play and dart behind the line to start a tackle for a loss. With his closing speed and strength, Parsons can pack a punch on ball-carriers when he comes downhill. Parsons is fast to the perimeter to shut down runs in the flat, and he is a good tackler who is reliable to get the ball-carrier to the ground. Parsons' athleticism and agility provide him with plus change-of-direction skills as well.
As a pro, Parsons needs to improve his ability to take on and shed blocks in the tackle box. He tried to run around blocks at times at Penn State, but that is something he will improve upon as he gains experience.
Parsons looks like a versatile linebacker who could play a variety of spots, including on the inside of a 3-4 defense, as a Mike linebacker in a 4-3, or as a Will linebacker in a 4-3. He should be a valuable chess piece for his pro defensive coordinator and a solution to a variety of assignments.
Player Comparison: Dont'a Hightower. Parsons's skill set, strength, athleticism and ability to cause havoc in the backfield are reminiscent of Hightower. Hightower was a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and Parsons should end up as top-20 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.