On Tuesday the Miami Dolphins released starting linebacker Kyle Van Noy, making it an exclamation point as an underrated need for the Dolphins this offseason.
In addition to Van Noy, fellow LBs Vince Biegel, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Elandon Roberts are all unrestricted free agents. While decent players, none of those players are guaranteed to be coming back to the team or produced numbers in Miami that scream for extension money.
Luckily the 2021 NFL Draft features a number of linebackers suitable to fill a hole the Dolphins could be addressing in years to come. With two current picks in the top-20, Penn State’s Micah Parsons is a name on the big board Miami should be circling.
Name: Micah Parsons
School: Penn State
Weight: 245 LBS
Parsons is a big, strong defensive weapon who has been timed by Penn State at 4.43 in the 40-yard dash. He can line up anywhere on the field and act as an eraser, eliminating offense’s options. In 2020, Parsons was slated to dominate as college football’s top defender.
Despite Opt-Out, Parsons Remains Top LB in Class
But after two seasons at Penn State, Parsons opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. However, Parsons remains arguably the top defender in the 2021 NFL Draft due to his tackling ability, high-pressure on the ball and explosiveness, among other skills.
Cotton Bowl Performance Punctuated Parsons’ Strong 2019 Campaign
In 2019 Parsons emerged as a leader on defense for the Nittany Lions. Parsons accumulated 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, four forced fumbles and five pass deflections. He punctuated his strong season by a dominant showing in the Cotton Bowl, notching 14 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
As a result Parsons earned a consensus All-American selection, a first team All-Big Ten selection, the Butkus–Fitzgerald Linebacker-of-the-Year Award and the Cotton Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player all in 2019.
Parsons, Van Ginkel Could Be Key Reason for Van Noy’s Walk
Miami’s defense had a huge turnaround in forcing turnovers and proving to be a scoring defense during the 2020-21 season. Adding Parsons to a group who is expected to elevate LB Andrew Van Ginkel in place of Van Noy could become a dominant wrecking crew. Pair Parsons’ ability to knock the ball free with Van Ginkel’s strip ability, as well as his tackling and quarterback hits, and there could be a lot of clarity outside of the salary cap as to why Miami let Van Noy walk.
Parsons’ Transition to LB — Mostly Smooth
Additionally, Parsons, who was a prized recruit as a pass rusher coming out of high school, is still ironing out some of the finer points of play. He’s still developing and learning to play the LB position at the college level after playing as a defensive lineman in high school, but his freakish combination of size and explosiveness allow him to explode into gaps when he sees the play develop. This combination has also allowed him to ease into the LB easier and his two years at Penn State has shown the transition has gone smoothly overall.
Parsons is an impact player on third downs as well. He’s a dynamic blitzer with the versatility to rush from multiple formations against offensive linemen and get home to the QB. In addition, his elite athleticism and fantastic instincts project him well in coverage even though his natural strength on third down is to assist as an additional rusher.
Speed, Sideline-to-Sideline Range Strong Suits
One thing that truly stands out watching Parsons is his closing speed and incredible sideline-to-sideline range.
In pursuit, his ability to explode out of direction changes is vital. Even in the early stages of Parsons’ career he has illustrated an incredible level of pure instinct for the game. He shows excellent ability to navigate the line of scrimmage and sift through congestion. He’s a quick twitch player whose acceleration ability allows him to be patient at the line of scrimmage and read his gaps.
Forcing Turnovers Raising Flores’ Radar?
Parsons also has an uncanny knack of always ripping at the football to create turnovers. Hence his many games with multiple forced fumbles.
He will be best suited in an aggressive defense that will task him with playing forward and attacking early in downs, rather than sitting back making flat-footed reads before flowing to the ball. Hello head coach Brian Flores, welcome to the conversation.
Parsons’ skill set makes him one of the most exciting linebackers in the draft. His range serves him well both as a run and pass-defender. But what makes Parsons exciting even beyond that is his ability to rush the passer. He projects as an excellent replacement for Van Noy or an old role, that could even be a starting position, on a Dolphins defense that likely won’t be re-signing many free agent LBs who played for them last season.
Editor’s Note: Highlights of Micah Parsons can be found on Pro Football Network and YouTube.