The Broncos have not hidden their interest in adding a dynamic athlete to their linebacker room in recent years. Back in 2019, the Broncos reportedly almost drafted now Steelers linebacker, Devin Bush, and this year it appears the Broncos are in search of a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker once again.
With the spread, speed-oriented offenses being the current trend in the NFL, linebackers that can tackle and cover in space are at a premium league-wide. What used to be a position that was known for being tough and rugged up the middle has evolved into more of an athlete-driven position to match opposing offenses.
In fact, the Broncos head coach Vic Fangio acknowledged this in a recent interview by stating, “The biggest change in the NFL the last five to ten years is the fullback has basically become extinct. He’s been replaced by a third wide receiver or a second tight end who’s a really good receiver. That has changed the dynamics of what you’re looking for defensively, particularly at the inside linebacker and safety position.”
Although fine players in their own right, Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson don’t possess the athleticism or coverage ability teams are typically looking for in today’s NFL.
With the draft right around the corner and fans searching for a linebacker that could fill this role, many speculate that Penn State’s Micah Parsons is a player the Broncos could target in the first round.
As one of the more physically gifted prospects in this draft class, Parsons has every tool needed to be successful as an NFL linebacker.
At 6-2 and 245-pounds, Parsons showed just how athletic he is at his pro-day, giving him a Relative Athletic Score (a metric used to measure an athlete’s overall athleticism using a composite of their pro-day results) of 9.59 out of 10. For context, this ranked Parsons 88th out of 2,137 linebackers tracked since 1987 (placing him in the fourth percentile).
This physical profile makes Parsons a terror coming downhill. Using all of his explosiveness — if Parsons can process what the opposing offense is doing quickly — he will be in the backfield making a big play instantaneously.
While taking on blocks, Parsons shows the ability to beat offensive lineman in multiple ways. Using speed or power, he shows the potential to discard blockers with ease on his way to the ball carrier.
As a former 5-star defensive end out of high school, Parsons shows the ability to really get after the quarterback for a player at his position. Matching this experience with fantastic speed and suddenness often can overwhelm or catch offensive lineman off guard, leaving them in the dust. This serves as an unbelievable weapon for defensive coordinators to get more pressure on the quarterback.
Micah Parsons (@MicahhParsons11) is one of the most athletically gifted players in this year’s draft class and could be the first Front 7 player selected.
Watch Parsons put his athleticism on display, clubs and swims through the guard, and comes up with the sack in 2.9 sec. pic.twitter.com/nk1ry7SMnV
— Recruiting Analytics (@RAanalytics) April 20, 2021
The area where Parsons most excites as an NFL prospect is his sideline-to-sideline ability.
Quick and explosive, Parsons is a threat to the ball carrier anywhere on the field. His range is ridiculous for someone with his size and is often utilized as a way to limit offensive yards to a minimum. He is a player offenses will not want to keep unblocked as he will hunt the ball carrier down in pursuit with ease.
Parsons’s upside is through the roof.
He’s a supremely talented athlete with rare traits for a linebacker. As a player fairly new to the position, his best football very well could be ahead of him, leaving many to imagine just how good he could become.
Being new to the position leaves Parsons raw in many aspects of his game. In particular, he can be manipulated in play-action or by any concepts with misdirection. This an area that any team that drafts him will have to deal with until Parsons gains the necessary experience to remain disciplined.
This lack of experience is also a concern in coverage as Penn State did not ask much of him here. Remember, he was a defensive lineman in high school who opted out of his final college season.
Although he has all the tools necessary, I would not expect this to be a strength for Parsons. This is an area of his game scouts will hope he picks up on under an NFL coaching staff. In obvious passing situations, NFL teams would be wise to use him as a rusher as much as possible while he develops.
For the Broncos, drafting Parsons would not be the answer if they are looking for a substantial improvement in coverage. Although upgrading on what they currently have at linebacker, many will question if this actually solves a big enough need for the Broncos to validate selecting him with an early pick.
Parsons is also dealing with an array of off-the-field accusations that lead to maturity and character concerns. In particular, one event where Parsons was accused of being the ring leader in what sounds to be a very gruesome hazing incident towards a teammate at Penn State.
I have seen many asking about Micah Parsons alleged off-field concerns…
This stuff is all out there already with a quick google search pic.twitter.com/WRZWIIGLCi
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) April 21, 2021
In response to the character concerns, Parsons said, “Obviously, people have concerns about things that came up but at the end of the day, I was a kid. I was 17, 18. We all made mistakes when we were 17, 18. I’m not going to let it control or dictate the person I am now. … Everyone’s gonna learn and grow. I’m pretty sure y’all aren’t making the same mistakes when you were 17, 18.”
The natural ability of Parsons is undeniable. He is a special athlete that — if he can stay focused and continues to develop — has Hall of Fame potential.
With that being said, as a player, Parsons has a long way to go before he reaches that ceiling. With how strong this year’s linebacker class looks to be, the Broncos would be better off waiting until day two of the draft to find their off-ball linebacker of the future.
If the Broncos do not receive further reassurance on Parsons’ off-the-field accusations, they should take him off their board altogether. For his own development and locker room reasons, the Broncos must go through extreme lengths to vet any player they draft and be careful about who they bring in.
Draft Projection: Top 20
MHS Big Board Ranking: N/A due to character concerns.