The Dallas Cowboys called an audible in the 2021 NFL Draft when both of their top targets, Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain Jr went off the board in front of them. After a slight time-buying trade with Philly, they made their selection: Penn State linebacker extraordinaire, Micah Parson.
The selection was met with mixed reviews in and around Cowboys Nation. While the player was clearly a generational athlete, he came with risk (some off field accusations, only two years at the position, one year away from the game) and he played what is considered to be low value position (off-ball LBs have low WAR scores). Therefore not everyone, including me, was sold.
If used in typical fashion, an off-ball linebacker is tough to get excited about. He’s usually at the mercy of the line play in front of him and while he can rack up big stats, they don’t always translate to impact plays (see also: Jaylon Smith’s gaudy tackle numbers but dismal overall impact).
The only way Micah Parsons was going to pay off is if the Dallas Cowboys were willing to get creative and build the defense around his skillset. And based on how uncreatively Dallas have used Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon over the years, that didn’t seem very likely. But then Dan Quinn happened…
NFL analyst Brian Baldinger pointed out Dan Quinn and the Dallas Cowboys built their whole defense around Micah Parsons.
Former NFL player and current NFL Network/Fox Sports analyst, Brian Baldinger, is known for his film review. Unlike many others in the national media, Brian backs up his bold statements with film. And he did both this week when discussing the Dallas Cowboys top rookie, Micah Parsons.
Right off the bat Brian states his hypothesis: “[Dan Quinn] built the whole defense around Micah Parsons.” He then goes on to illustrate how in his film breakdown.
Dan Quinn is making his defense fit Micah Parsons instead of making Micah Parsons fit Dan Quinn’s defense.
What Brian does is point out what Dallas Cowboys fans have been seeing all preseason: Dan Quinn is making his defense fit Micah instead of making Micah fit his defense. From the start of Dallas’ rookie minicamp, to the latest preseason effort, we’ve seen Quinn move Micah to a variety of positions, playing a variety of roles, and executing a variety of tasks.
Best of all – Parsons has executed them all with extreme precision and a high rate of success.
Pro Football Focus has rated Parsons’ preseason with an elite score of 91.0. That’s the third best defensive score in the class and just 0.6 below the top ranked player, Jonathan Cooper. As mentioned earlier, he’s not scoring so well because he’s perfected a singular role on the team, but he’s done it moving around and doing a little bit of everything with extreme precision. The word “remarkable” doesn’t even do him justice here.
As Brian Baldinger points out, Parsons has lined up over center, he’s played the traditional MIKE, he’s in two-point stance on the edge, and he’s even beating double-teams playing 3-tech. That’s right, defensive tackle. Brian goes on to say this:
"“I think [Micah Parsons] is going to be the most versatile defensive player in the league.”"
If many of us heard this statement three months ago, we’d likely shoot milk out our noses. Not because we didn’t think Parsons had the ability. But rather because the Dallas Cowboys aren’t known for their creativity and adaptability. Seeing Dan Quinn utilize Parsons to the breadth of his abilities is exhilarating, and frankly, a little shocking.
Using Micah Parsons as a chess piece and playmaker is enough to get the “LBs don’t matter” group like me, on board with the pick. Not because the mantra has been proven wrong but rather because Parsons is proving to be more than an off-ball linebacker.
Seeing Dan Quinn utilize Parsons to the breadth of his abilities is exhilarating, and frankly, a little shocking.
The fact that the Dallas Cowboys are finally willing to make their defense fit the players rather than force players to fit the scheme is a breath of fresh air. For years we’ve seen Dallas jam round pegs into square holes. But with Quinn running the defense things have changed.
We’ve noted previous examples of this metamorphosis over the summer: Keanu Neal moved from the safety spot to the linebacker position – something he’s much better suited for. Maurice Canady is excelling inside as a slot CB – a rare experiment given his 6-foot-1 size. Brent Urban is playing inside and out. Randy Gregory is playing 7-tech and even 9-tech on the edge. All of them moves to maximize the players’ skillset. The list goes on…
It’s a new day in Dallas because Dan Quinn is willing to put his defense in the best position to succeed. He’s willing to build it all around Micah Parsons’ skillset and adapt his personal game-plan to the talent on the field.
Micah Parsons isn’t an off-ball linebacker like many of us feared he would be. He’s a chess piece used to make impact plays and that should be music to all Dallas Cowboys fans’ ears.
How long before Micah Parsons becomes the best defensive player in the NFL?