The Dallas Cowboys landed one heck of a consolation prize in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft last Thursday. After missing out on landing the top two cornerback prospects in the class, the Cowboys traded back two spots and still landed Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons 12th overall, who is arguably the top defensive prospect in the draft.
While the position of linebacker may not have been an obvious pressing need for the Cowboys, it certainly becomes one if you believe Dallas intends on parting ways with the often-injured Leighton Vander Each or the underperforming Jaylon Smith after this season. And the team could be heading in that direction after refusing to pick up Vander Esch’s fifth-year option for 2022 earlier this week.
As for Parsons, the rookie linebacker is an explosive difference-maker who should help revitalize a defense in Dallas that allowed the most points in franchise history last year. But just how impactful can he be in his first NFL season?
Here’s what NFL Media Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein wrote about Parsons on NFL.com recently after selecting him as one of his three favorite picks of the first round.
"“If you ever wondered what it’d be like to watch Saquon Barkley play linebacker, well, that’s Parsons in a nut shell thanks to his lower-body build and outrageous speed from sideline to sideline. He’s a terrific open-field tackler and a plus pass rusher who helps to diversify the Cowboys’ linebacking corps … he should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite.”"
Saquon Barkley, of course, being the dynamic running back for the New York Giants who was drafted second overall in the 2018 NFL Draft and selected NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Both Barkley and Parsons played at Penn State, which likely adds to the comparison here.
At six feet tall, 233-pounds, Barkley ran 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine as a prospect entering the draft four years ago. The larger 6-foot-3 and 246-pound Parsons ran a faster 4.39 forty time during his pro day this offseason.
As for production, Barkley posted 2,300 rushing yards, 143 receptions, and a total of 23 touchdowns over his first two seasons in the NFL. Last year, a torn ACL limited him to just two games.
Opting out last year, Parsons destroyed the Big Ten as a sophomore recording 109 total tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, five pass deflections, and four forced fumbles in 2019.
Certainly, the Dallas Cowboys hope Micah Parsons can have the kind of impact on their struggling defense as Saquon Barkley has had on the New York Giants offense. Maybe even more interesting is the fact these two former Nittany Lions will now face each other at least twice a year as divisional rivals for the foreseeable future.