When you think about a Bill Belichick defense, you probably think about a linebacker. Whether it’s Tedy Bruschi, Jerod Mayo, or Dont’a Hightower, the New England Patriots typically have a star linebacker at the middle of their defense. However, that player wasn’t there in 2020. Ja’Whaun Bentley is a serviceable depth option, but the Patriots need to find their next building block on defense. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons has a chance to be that superstar if the Patriots take him in the NFL Draft.
New England Patriots NFL Draft Targets: Micah Parsons
Micah Parsons is pretty close to the ideal football player, in that he possesses unbelievable athleticism with a great understanding of the game. Despite coming in at 6’-3” and 235 pounds, Parsons is remarkably fast and explosive. The Penn State product can go sideline-to-sideline and moves like he’s 30 pounds lighter than he actually is.
Of course, he’s more than just a light-footed speedster. Parsons isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty, possessing the strength to blow up interior linemen and rarely misses his man. According to Pro Football Focus, Parson missed just 11 tackles on 188 attempts, a fantastic rate for the collegiate level. Versatility is key in a Bill Belichick defense, and Parsons has the ability to line up all over the field. While he’s most at home at middle linebacker, he has the agility to play in the slot and the strength to line up with his hand in the dirt.
#Patriots draft target: Penn State LB Micah Parsons. At 6-3, 245 pounds, Parsons is a dream LB for BB. Plays on & off the line, terrific instincts+range, cover/blitz ability. Total package.
Having a read and chase off-ball LB like Parsons would do wonders for the Pats defense. pic.twitter.com/Q39kY9shSc
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 8, 2021
Parsons opted out of the 2020 college football season in order to decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19 to his two-year-old child. This means that we only have tape of his freshman and sophomore seasons, which is a blessing and a curse. While you obviously want to see as much tape as possible, the fact Parsons played that well as a youngster brings great promise for his future. Generally speaking, college players tend to play their best football during their final two years, which means Parsons has the potential to get even better at the NFL level. It’s easy to get overconfident in a prospect during draft season, but it’s not hyperbole to say that Parsons could develop into a top-five linebacker within a few years.
Trying to find weaknesses in Parsons’ tape is the ultimate example of nitpicking. Truthfully, he isn’t really bad at anything, but are some areas of his game that could improve. His biggest “weakness” is his work in coverage. While he’s far from a liability, he’s not anything special in that part of the game. The linebacker has only broken up four passes in his two-year college career and spent most of his time playing in zone coverage.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with playing in a zone-heavy scheme, especially when Parsons is more than capable of handling that role at the NFL level. However, in today’s pass-happy world, elite man coverage tends to be more valuable than zone coverage. While he has the athleticism to theoretically turn into a good man coverage linebacker, he rarely did it in college and would have to learn the fundamentals from the ground up.
Of course, the biggest red flag with Parsons comes from his off-field behavior. Back in early 2020, a former Penn State player filed a lawsuit claiming that Parsons, along with some other players, headlined a hazing scandal where players “threatened to Sandusky [new players]”. This is obviously terrible, and the Patriots should remove Parsons from their board if they believe the hazing acts are just the tip of the iceberg. However, reports across the league believe that this won’t affect Parsons’ draft stock, so scouts believe that the Penn State product has a good-enough head on his shoulders.
I've talked to multiple teams about Parsons.
All said a version of:
"We're aware of something that happened years ago, but we don't expect it to affect where he's drafted." https://t.co/Oh5KIaMQ31
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 9, 2021
Where Should the Patriots Draft Micah Parsons
Based on pure talent and talent alone, Micah Parsons is easily a top-10 player in the 2021 NFL Draft. The linebacker can do everything you need him to do and truly excels as both a run-stuffer and pass rusher.
However, despite the talent, there is a chance Parsons slides all the way to New England. NFL teams are becoming more and more enamored with the offensive side of the ball, and with good reason. It is a passing league, after all, and every team needs an elite offense if they want a real chance at competing for a Super Bowl.
Parsons should definitely be in consideration for New England at 15, but he’s not an auto-pick if he’s there. New England still needs a long-term answer at quarterback and should pull the trigger if they stand a chance at landing Trey Lance. Even if they can’t find their franchise passer in the first round, they’ll still need some type of playmaker to bring some life to the offense. Jaylen Waddle, Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith, and Kyle Pitts all come to mind here. However, if all of the aforementioned players are off the board, then Micah Parsons should be an easy choice at 15.
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