Draft Grades: Most observers feel Cowboys could’ve done better with 1st rounder

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Tony Thompson
·7 min read
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Not all drafts can be as fun as it was for fans of the Dallas Cowboys in 2020 when wide receiver CeeDee Lamb fell right into their laps. This year the players most mocked to head to the Metroplex were snatched in consecutive picks before the Cowboys were on the clock. One trade and 20 minutes later, they turned in the card for Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.

The Dallas brass has spent considerable draft capital at the linebacker position. In 2016 it was Jaylon Smith at No. 34. In 2018 it was Leighton Vander Esch at pick No. 19 and now Parsons at No. 12. Here’s how they fared on some report cards.

Draft Wire: A

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This pick had to be defense, and the Cowboys land the best defensive player in this entire draft, even getting him outside the top 10 after trading back. Parsons is a rare athlete for his size, with the physicality to match. He’s a three-down playmaker who can stuff the run and cover backs and tight ends. This defense needs an identity change, and Parsons is the perfect pick to make that happen.

Touchdown Wire: B

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Analysis: Provided teams are satisfied about the character concerns, Parsons is a top ten talent in this draft class. The other concern might be the position, as off-ball linebackers tend to be devalued in today’s game. But given what he can do off the edge as a pass rusher in spots, the fact Parsons can also contribute in that way makes him a player worth targeting at the top of the first round. He’s a potential do-it-all guy who could transcend his alleged positional value over time. Grade: B. Parsons projects well as an inside and outside linebacker, but he can also play in the slot, and with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch already on board, new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has one of the most athletic linebacker groups in the NFL. The need in the secondary is still clear, but the Cowboys can pick up pieces for that a bit later in the draft.

CBS: B

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Do the Cowboys really need a linebacker? I know their linebackers didn't play as well last year, but this wasn't a major need.

The Ringer: A-

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Dallas was likely pretty sad to see Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II come off the board in the top 10, but Parsons is a good fit for the Cowboys, who desperately need to upgrade their talent-deficient defense. With prototypical size and elite speed, the former Nittany Lions star can wear a number of hats for Dallas, both against the run, in coverage, and as a situational pass-rusher. My comp for Parsons was Jaylon Smith; now they’re teammates.

Grade: A-

SB Nation: B+

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There’s a pretty clear through line here. With Chicago jumping up for a QB it’s clear the Cowboys weren’t comfortable going down to No. 20 and still getting a player like Parsons. Widely regarded as the best defensive player in the draft, it might not be a position of huge need for the Cowboys, who desperately needed a cornerback — but it’s a BPA pick on defense. Grade: B+

Bleacher Report: B

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Very few prospects can make an argument they bring a unique skill set compared to everyone else in the class. Penn State's Micah Parsons can. The early entrant, who opted out of the 2020 campaign, told reporters he's "the most versatile player in the draft."

While somewhat true, his traits don't necessarily translate into what teams are searching for in top linebacker prospects. Parsons is an off-ball linebacker who excels in rushing the passer. True three-down linebackers are tasked with working in space often. In Parsons' case, he's still a work in progress as a coverage defender.

The raw athleticism is present to excel in this specific area, and the 21-year-old flashed during his two seasons with the Nittany Lions. The area simply isn't a strength at this juncture.

A plan is necessary to fully realize Parsons' potential. His natural instincts playing downhill coupled with creativity in pressure packages will place Parsons, who played defensive end at the high school level, in immediate NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation. If he's used as a traditional linebacker, some of his best talents will go to waste.

Off the field for Parsons, an alleged fight with a teammate and alleged "hazing acts that simulated sexual assault" both surfaced recently.

The Dallas Cowboys aren’t afraid to take a risk on a premium talent.

Parsons immediately helps in two areas. The linebacker can fill the void left by the now-retired Sean Lee. The defender doubles as a standout blitzer/pass-rusher. He can be moved all over the field and provide the Cowboys with a much-needed boost among their pressure packages after they finished in the bottom half of the league with 31 sacks.

The only real question about the incoming linebacker is how he handles a professional atmosphere. The Cowboys viewed him as worth the risk, and the team traded down, added an extra third-round pick and still landed an elite prospect.

The Cowboys desperately needed to get better on the defensive side of the ball, and Parsons certainly makes the unit better.

Grade: B

NFL.com: No Grade

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Parsons might emerge as the best defensive player in the draft when it is all said and done. He is a freak athlete with explosive strength, power and speed. As an A-plus blitz specialist with a nasty disposition, Parsons could play at a superstar level early in his career in the right system.

NBC Sports: A-

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The Cowboys addressed a weakness on their defense by selecting a linebacker with All-Pro potential. Micah Parsons has the size, strength and speed to wreak havoc on defense. He's an excellent tackler, he can blitz and he can cover. Parsons was an AP All-American in 2019 but didn't play in 2020 after opting out of the season amid the pandemic. Dallas did very well trading back two spots and getting Parsons plus an Eagles' third-round pick.

The Athletic: B+

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There’s no denying that Parsons has a high ceiling. At 6-foot-3, 246 pounds, he ran a 4.36 40. Parsons led Penn State in tackles in 2018 and 2019 before opting out last year. His athleticism jumps off the screen, and Parsons consistently made highlight plays firing downhill against the run or while rushing the passer. He’ll have to prove himself as a defender in man coverage, but Parsons’ versatility and explosiveness are attractive. New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can deploy him in a number of different ways, and Parsons has the chance to have a special career. Meanwhile, the Cowboys picked up an extra third-round pick by moving down from 10 to 12. Good process, good result.

For The Win: B

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Micah Parsons wasn’t projected much to the Cowboys, but with Horn and Surtain off the board, he might be the best defensive prospect left in the draft. Parsons has to work on his coverage ability, but he’s a monster truck coming through the line of scrimmage. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylor Smith quickly became unreliable, which probably drove this pick. Getting Parsons after trading down adds to the value here. Grade: B

Sporting News: B-

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Dallas made a curious superfluous pick to add to its linebacker strength with Jaylen Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, going back to the program that produced venerable retiree Sean Lee. Parsons is a rangy playmaker who excels at covering and blitzing. He can line up everywhere to help their defense in another way, but cornerback and true edge rusher were much bigger needs for Dallas and there also were strong options for the offensive line still on the board.

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