Editor's note: Micah Parsons announced on Aug. 6, a couple months after this post was initially published, that he's opting out of the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic and intends to enter the 2021 NFL Draft as an underclassman.
NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2020. This is the third in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
The NFL game has always valued speed, but it seems like it has become even more important over the last few years. Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs overwhelm opponents with their speed at the skill positions, and defenses have been forced to adjust. You need speed all over the field to compete against teams like K.C. That is especially true at linebacker. There was a time when you could roll with a big, physical player at the position and sacrifice some speed on early downs before subbing him out of the game in passing situations. Not anymore. Those players have been forced out of the league. You need dynamic athletes at the position on every down. You need guys like Penn State junior Micah Parsons.
Height, weight: 6-foot-3, 244 pounds (school measurements).
2019 statistics: 109 tackles (52 solo), 14 for loss, five sacks, five passes defensed, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery.
Game tape watched: Iowa (Oct. 12, 2019), Michigan (Oct. 19, 2019), Ohio State (Nov. 23, 2019).
What I liked: There is plenty to like about Parsons' game. First of all, he has a big, athletic build for the position. His play speed is excellent and he has the versatility to play off the ball or on the edge. As an inside linebacker, he possesses a trait that is rare in today's college game: He can physically take on blocks. He attacks guards and can escape to make plays after a collision. He did the same versus the fullback in the Iowa game last season. He eats up ground in a hurry when chasing plays to the perimeter and is a very reliable tackler.
Parsons also excels against the pass. He can cover backs and tight ends all over the field. He has the vision and instincts to make plays in zone coverage. He's a dynamic blitzer from the middle or off the edge. He has phenomenal timing and burst. His overall instincts are top-notch.
Where he needs to improve: There weren't many negative plays from Parsons in the three games I studied. He will get overaggressive and overrun the ball at times. However, that is offset by his ability to redirect and eventually find his way back to the ball-carrier. He also had a few issues locating the ball on some zone-read plays in the Ohio State game. Playing against that scheme requires incredible discipline and he was pulled out of position at times.
Biggest takeaway: We've seen some outstanding off-ball linebackers in the last few draft classes. Last year's group featured three first-rounders (Kenneth Murray, Patrick Queen and Jordyn Brooks). Obviously, this is based on a limited exposure to Parsons, but as of right now, I have him graded above all three of those players. He is a complete player. Queen lacked ideal size, Murray had some questions about his instincts and Brooks wasn't quite as physical. Parsons checks off all the boxes.
He reminds me of: Jaylon Smith coming out of Notre Dame. I loved the way Smith played in college. If not for that gruesome injury he suffered against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, he would've been one of the first players off the board in the 2016 draft. He has since recovered to have an outstanding career in Dallas. Parsons has a similar build and playing style. They are both so explosive and aggressive. It's hard to find players with this type of agility and athleticism without sacrificing the size. If Parsons can stay healthy and continue to develop, he will emerge as one of the top five players in the country.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.