2021 NFL draft: Penn State's Micah Parsons has concerns but also elite potential

Leading up to the 2021 NFL draft, which starts April 29, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five for Nos. 100-51, followed by more in-depth reports on our top 50 players, with help from our scouting assistant, Liam Blutman. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Other prospect rankings: Nos. 100-96 | 95-91 | 90-86 | 85-81 | 80-76 | 75-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. OT Liam Eichenberg | 49. WR Terrace Marshall Jr. | 48. LB Chazz Surratt | 47. EDGE Joe Tryon | 46. OT-OG Alex Leatherwood | 45. CB Asante Samuel Jr. | 44. DL Levi Onwuzurike | 43. LB Jabril Cox | 42. DT Daviyon Nixon | 41. EDGE Ronnie Perkins | 40. LB Nick Bolton | 39. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu | 38. WR Elijah Moore | 37. OT Jalen Mayfield | 36. EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. | 35. CB Elijah Molden | 34. RB Travis Etienne | 33. WR Kadarius Toney | 32. EDGE Jayson Oweh | 31. LB Zaven Collins | 30. DT Christian Barmore | 29. QB Mac Jones | 28. CB Caleb Farley | 27. RB Javonte Williams | 26. C-OG Landon Dickerson | 25. S Trevon Moehrig | 24. CB Greg Newsome II | 23. WR Rashod Bateman | 22. EDGE Greg Rousseau | 21. OT Christian Darrisaw | 20. RB Najee Harris | 19. LB-S Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah | 18. EDGE Jaelan Phillips | 17. OT Teven Jenkins | 16. EDGE Kwity Paye | 15. CB Jaycee Horn | 14. OT-OG Rashawn Slater | 13. OG-OT Alijah Vera-Tucker | 12. WR DeVonta Smith | 11. EDGE Azeez Ojulari | 10. CB Patrick Surtain II | 9. OT Penei Sewell | 8. QB Zach Wilson | 7. LB Micah Parsons | 6. QB Trey Lance | 5. WR Jaylen Waddle | 4. QB Justin Fields | 3. WR Ja'Marr Chase | 2. TE Kyle Pitts | 1. QB Trevor Lawrence

Here's how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Here's how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

7. Penn State LB Micah Parsons

6-foot-3, 246 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.20 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Extraordinary athlete who is inexperienced at linebacker but has flashed immense potential in his two college seasons

Games watched: Pitt (2019), Michigan (2019), Ohio State (2019), Memphis (2019)

The skinny: A 5-star Rivals recruit (No. 6 nationally), Parsons played right away in Happy Valley. As a true freshman in 2018, he started only one of 13 games but was a significant contributor with a team-high 83 tackles (five for losses), 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, earning Freshman All-America status.

In 2019, Parsons made 109 tackles (14 for losses), five sacks, five pass breakups, four forced fumbles and one recovery in 13 games (12 starts), earning first-team AP All-America, first-team All-Big Ten selection and Big Ten Linebacker of the Year honors. Parsons opted out of the 2020 season and declared early for the 2021 draft.

Upside: Phenomenal height-weight-speed prospect. Ideal frame for a tone-setting linebacker. Fast and explosive, with great change-of-direction skill. Tremendous strength and power in his game. Broad shoulders and massive hands (11 inches) that would make almost any offensive lineman jealous. No obvious physical limitations.

Strong pro day workout — clocked a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at nearly 250 pounds, which is almost unheard of. Explosive result in the broad jump (126 inches) and very strong time in the 3-cone drill (6.96 seconds). Possesses sideline-to-sideline speed. Has the quickness to disrupt anything within reasonable range.

Effective working laterally and downhill. Can attack from multiple angles. Shoots gaps before blockers can react and adjust. Heat-seeking missile when covered up and given room to roam. Able to slip blocks or take them head on. Can be used to spy mobile quarterbacks and hunt them down.

Racked up 10-plus tackles in six of his final seven college games. Six career forced fumbles in 26 career games. Reliable tackler once he gets his powerful hands on a man. Made some TD-saving stops — excellent red-zone and goal-line defender with his quick burst and power on impact.

Outstanding blitzer with a natural feel for rushing the passer. High school edge rusher who was used on the line. Excellent at timing up his pressures — off the edge, inside the tackle’s shoulder or standing up over the A-gap. Accelerates to the quarterback and will flatten backs, tight ends and even linemen who stand in his way. Highly aggressive style and temperament.

Penn State LB Micah Parsons opted out of the 2020 season but could be a special NFL talent. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Penn State LB Micah Parsons opted out of the 2020 season but could be a special NFL talent. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Made a vast jump in his play from 2019 to 2020. Adjusted well to the position and displayed immense potential for growth. Natural knack for making game-changing plays. Started reacting and diagnosing even quicker by the 2020 season. Able to stack and shed vs. size. Will scrape down the line and pick his spot to attack. Blew up some fullbacks on power runs and allowed others to clean up the mess.

Profiles as a versatile weapon — coverage potential could be high. Still inexperienced in this area but has the athleticism to handle more extensive duties vs. backs and tight ends. Very quick to gain depth in his zone drops. Showed some keen instincts to cut off passing lanes and deflect passes (see Pitt, Memphis games).

Has the desire to be great. School sources have vouched for his character — belief is that he can mature over time with the right guidance. Intense, high-energy gameday approach to be a defensive star. Showed every facet of his game-changing skill in a dominant performance vs. Memphis in his final college game — 14 tackles (one for a 10-yard loss), two sacks, two forced fumbles, two pass breakups and a QB hit that helped force an interception, playing 83 of a possible 90 snaps.

Downside: Still developing LB instincts. Will overrun plays, take false steps and bite on misdirection and play-action. Takes risks and guesses wrong. Freelancer who needs to play within the scheme better — fine line between reeling him in too much and letting him wildly roam.

Technique needs a good cleanup. Still learning to keep his pads square to the line of scrimmage. Will try to defeat backs in pass pro by lunging with his shoulder. Best now working forward rather than in reverse.

Can rely too much on his athleticism. Some so-so testing results from his pro day in the 20-yard shuttle (4.4 seconds), bench press (19 reps) and vertical jump (34 inches).

Inexperienced — 2020 opt out with only 26 college games (13 starts) and only one year as a middle linebacker and signal-caller. Still fine-tuning things after rushing the passer predominantly prior to arriving at PSU. Splash player who can develop more down-to-down consistency.

Can still make more high-impact plays. Zero college interceptions — had a few clang off his mitts. Inexperienced in man coverage — we simply haven’t seen him much in that department. Missed on a few would-be sacks and TFLs by flying in too hot. Racked up some tackles 10-15 yards downfield, more from hustle plays or from cleaning up his own mistakes.

Viewed as immature and high-maintenance when he arrived on campus. Film-study habits likely need to get better. Could need guidance from coaches and veteran players alike. Was named the “ringleader” in PSU’s hazing scandal by former player Isaiah Humphries, although Parsons was not named as a defendant in Humphries’ suit against the school.

Best-suited destination: Although Parsons played middle linebacker for the Nittany Lions, evaluators we spoke to say he might be best served to start out as a 4-3 weakside linebacker, or play inside or outside in a 3-4 system. In a perfect world, Parsons would have a Danny Trevathan-like mentor on the field beside him to help guide his career.

That shouldn’t limit Parsons’ potential impact early in his career. He'll be a plus run defender early on, as well as a piece who can rush on passing downs while he hones his craft in coverage. Parsons has Pro Bowl upside if he keeps focused and gains the right tutelage and experience.

Did you know: Micah’s sister, Shatara, played basketball at California University (Pa.), helping the school win the 2015 Division II national title, averaging 21.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. She signed a contract to play professional basketball in Germany in 2018 but returned to the United States the following year to try to make it as a model in New York.

Player comp: Shades of Demario Davis, Rashaan Evans and even D.J. Williams

Expected draft range: Top-20 pick

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