If you are excited about the Dallas Cowboys 12th overall selection of Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, I don't blame you. The size, the speed, the strength - they all display a specimen that does not depict your prototypical linebacker in the NFL. As the game evolves, so do the players. That's why when we year people talk about "planet players" like Florida tight end Kyle Pitts described as someone with unparalleled size and speed, it's easy to understand why teams covet such a lavish commodity.
That is what the Cowboys are hoping they have with Parsons. In fact, if the Nittany Lion had come out of college a couple years earlier, we could be talking about the first ever of his breed. A breed that consists of a linebacker who is built like an edge rusher, but runs like a defensive back. But as it stands now, Parsons is not the first, and that is because we witnessed this same reveal this time last year when Clemson's Isaiah Simmons was selected 8th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The similarities between Simmons and Parsons are uncanny. Not only do they have nearly identical builds, but the commonality of traits are plentiful. Both are sideline-to-sideline blazers who are extremely good at chasing down ball carriers. Both have superb blitzing skills. Both are hard hitters who love to punish the opponent. And because of their speed, both are effective in coverage with the athleticism to run with tight ends and running backs. With Simmons being a highly touted college prospect a year ago, it's complety understandable why Parsons is receiving that same level of interest.
This strong player comparison might even give us a glimpse into what lies ahead for Parsons at the NFL level as we already have Simmons rookie season to draw from. While each player is his own person and joined a team with different circumstances, there might be some things to learn from this.
Looking back at Simmons first year in the league tells a story. As one might expect, things started out slow as he didn't see as much action as one might've expected from the 8th overall pick in the draft. He only had one game (at Seattle in Week 11) where he registered more than five tackles in a game. And in his pro debut, San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert sent him a little reminder that in the NFL, everyone is fast.
To be fair to Simmons, Mostert is one of the fastest players in the league, so any linebacker expecting to stay with him in coverage is asking for trouble.
Throughout the year, the Cardinals took things slow with Simmons. He never reached 30% of the defensive playing time over his first seven games and in most cases didn't eclipse double-digits snaps. The opportunities were limited and the rookie was admittedly frustrated, but he kept working. Finally, a huge confidence booster came against a division rival.
That game ended up being a turning point for Simmons, who say his snap count rise. In fact, he went from less than 30% playing time his first seven games to 30% or more in each of his final nine games. There were a handful of reasons why this top draft prospect rode the pine early on, and coincidentally it could be some of the same obstacles Parsons is up against in Dallas.
For starters, Arizona already had some other seasoned investments at the position. They were financially committed to Jordan Hicks (free agency) as well as former first-round pick Haason Reddick (13th overall in 2017) on the roster. Reddick was playing on the last year of his rookie deal after the team declined to pick up his fifth-year option.
That scenario should sound all too familar to Cowboys fans as Parsons enters the same type of situation in Dallas. The team has money tied up in Jaylon Smith, and just recently passed on exercising Leighton Vander Esch's fifth-year option, meaning he'll hit free agency in 2022. While Parsons is clearly a part of the team's future, that doesn't necessarily mean he'll get thrown into action right away. There is going to be a learning curve, so while the athleticism is there, the amount of time he's on the field early on might not be what everyone expects.
Not only that, but one of the knocks on Parsons is that his awareness can put him in precarious situations, allowing blockers to take him out of the play. His ability to process blocking schemes will go along way in getting him more reps. Furthermore, he's going to need to exhibit mental toughness like Simmons did when he felt he wasn't getting enough opportunities. Hopefully, any maturity issues Parsons had in college don't resurface when adversity strikes. All of these factors collectively point to a rookie season that could have a few bumps and bruises along the way.
The Cowboys linebacker group is crowded, not just with Smith and Vander Esch, but with free agent signing Keanu Neal as well. Even fellow rookie Jabril Cox might even snare some coverage snaps. The Cowboys have plenty of time to sort things out, but with so much to learn and a surplus of bodies, it might be wise to temper our expectations for Parsons in year one.