One of the bigger problems most people find with the pick of Micah Parsons for the Cowboys is that he plays a position that is not as highly-valued in today’s pass-happy NFL. Off-ball linebackers have seen their value drop much like their counterparts on offense, running backs. The fact that the Cowboys have now drafted Jaylon Smith in the second round, Leighton Vander Esch in the first round, and now Micah Parsons in the first round, means the Cowboys are spending premium resources on a position where other teams have found players in later rounds.
That’s a generally valid criticism, but may not be exactly applicable to the pick of Parsons. That’s because Parsons adds a bit of position flex to the Cowboys defense. The coaches are already thinking of Parsons in a part-time role as a DPR, a designated pass rusher in certain formations.
Coach Mike McCarthy envisions Parsons as a player that can be moved all around the defense.
“He can play the SAM, the MIKE and the WILL positions,” McCarthy said of Parsons’ flexibility across linebacker spots. “Whether is he covered up in the bubble, playing to the open guard or playing the [defensive pass rush specialist], he gives us the multiple looks to get in and out of different personnel.”
Several times in the post-draft press conference McCarthy referenced Parsons ability to be a DPR in specific formations. That shouldn’t be all that surprising given how Parsons played in 2019. Just check out some analysts evaluations of his pass-rushing skills.
Parsons, who was a prized recruit as a pass rusher coming out of high school, … He’s a dynamic blitzer and has the versatility to rush against offensive linemen and claim victories to get home to the quarterback.
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.
A former defensive end recently turned linebacker, you see rare pass-rush traits from Parsons compared to most linebacker prospects.
Statements like those accompany almost every evaluation of Parsons. Coach McCarthy confirmed that they plan to use him like that in certain situations.
This will give the Cowboys two players on defense who can move to different levels. Safety Keanu Neal has already been talked about as a player who can play safety and move to linebacker in passing situations. Now, they could move Parsons to a SAM DPR in passing situations creating a speed coverage/pressure unit. McCarthy noted that the team wants more speed in a pre-draft press conference. They will certainly be getting that with Parsons.
Is Parsons the speed and energy McCarthy requested earlier in the week?
“Bingo,” the head coach said after Round 1. “I don’t know how to say it better. He plays the game we want to play on defense and the way we’re going to play defense. … We just added a player that is outstanding at going and taking the football away.
“He’s an impact player.”
So maybe all the obsessing about whether the Cowboys should have picked an off-ball linebacker so high in the draft could be a little misplaced. The Cowboys may have bigger ideas in mind on how to employ their newest weapon.