Dallas Cowboys rookie phenom Micah Parsons, Defensive Player of the Year

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Defensive Rookie of the Year will no longer cut it. Micah Parsons, the Dallas Cowboys top pick from the 2021 NFL Draft, has far outplayed “Best in Class”. The 6-foot-3 240lb linebacker from Penn State is making his case for Defensive Player of the Year. And ya know what? He deserves it.

Since taking the field as a professional, Parsons has blown all prognostications out of the water. Not only has he been a far better linebacker than anyone expected, but he’s been a far better defensive lineman as well. He’s been a better coverage man, pass-rusher, and run-stopper. It’s safe to say if you name the expectation, he exceeded it.

Micah Parsons has no-so-quietly dominated the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys rookie has a valid claim to Defensive Player of the Year.

We know now, Micah was always supposed to wear multiple hats in Dallas. While many fans, draftniks, basically anyone who understands positional value, were up in arms over the selection in April, the Dallas Cowboys had a plan – to use Micah in an expanded role that better utilizes his unique strengths. But even they had no idea what was to come.

Micah Parsons’ main competition for DPOY honors is widely regarded as T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett. The two blue chip players are unquestionably elite pass rushers and respectively claim 16 and 15 sacks this season – more than Parsons’ 12.

For some casual voters, that may be enough to call those two the rightful frontrunners to the NFL’s highest defensive honor. But that’s surface level justification and a quick peak beneath the sheets reveals there’s much more than sacks to consider.

Even if you are grader who’s enamored with the pass-rush (as most of us admittedly are), Parsons has a legit claim as a better pass-rusher than anyone else, despite the totals falling a tad short.

Despite trailing the aforementioned two in total sacks, Parsons is destroying them in pressure rate. When Parsons rushes the passer, he far more likely to get to pay-dirt than anyone in the entire league, including Watt and Garrett.

The reason he doesn’t have the cumulative sack numbers to support his elite and league-leading pressure rate is because he’s more than just a one-trick pass-rushing pony. He’s a coverage man and a off-ball run-stopper as well.

Instead of obsessing over sack totals that always seem to favor those with the most opportunities – Let’s stay focused on what makes Parsons so special and that’s his efficiency and ability to be everywhere and do everything.

According to Pro Football Focus’ play tracking, Parsons has played 233 snaps in coverage and 250 snaps against the run to go with his 255 pass rush snaps. To put it another way, less than 35% of Parsons’ snaps are rushing the passer. Compare that to Garrett, 63% pass rush snaps, and Watt, 56% pass rush snaps, and you have a pretty good explanation as to why the cumulative totals don’t match the efficiency.

Some may try to downgrade the importance of coverage compared to pass-rush, but as we’ve seen in studies from the past, coverage is more valuable and more directly linked to success than the almighty pass-rush.

Think of it like this: the best pass-rusher on the planet, Micah Parsons, pressures the passer roughly 22% of the time. Whereas the best coverman makes an impact in coverage darn near 100% of the time. A pass-rusher can have a bad snap or even take a play off and the damage is minimal at most. A single bad snap in coverage has the potential to turn the game on it’s head.

How good has Micah Parsons been in coverage? Shocking great.

When Parsons rushes the passer, he far more likely to get to pay-dirt than anyone in the entire league, including Watt and Garrett.

Despite having very little experience in college, Parsons has only allowed 19 completions at a 63% completion rate with 5.2 yards/target this season. His 233 snaps in coverage aren’t an enormous amount but it’s considerably more than Watt’s 30 coverage snaps or Garrett’s seven coverage snaps this season. SEVEN.

While it’s true, the three players play different positions, so it’s unfair to expect a guy like Garrett who’s 6-4 272lbs to play coverage like Parsons. But if the 6-3 240lb Parsons can come in and do Garrett’s job better than him (as an inline pass-rusher), shouldn’t Garrett be able to drift out and cover like Parsons as well (since this is a DPOY discussion, after all)?

This just speaks to Parsons specialness. Parsons was supposed to be a linebacker, but after the Dallas Cowboys lost DeMarcus Lawrence in Week 1, Parsons was asked to play most of his snaps on the D-line. All the rookie did was dominate at his new EDGE position, playing a whopping 321 snaps (and counting) on the D-line (nearly half of his 739 snaps).

Parsons proved as a rookie off-ball linebacker, without much preparation at all, he’s arguably the best edge pass-rusher in the NFL. He also proved he can be a top-end coverage player as well, yielding just a 76.4 pass rating against, which, in case you’re wondering, is elite for a lineman or linebacker.

So if you’re looking at the numbers, Micah Parsons is clearly more outstanding than any of the outstanding players he’s competing against for DPOY honors. He’s also far more versatile than anyone in the DPOY conversation. And anyone who’s watched a Dallas Cowboys game can attest, he’s arguably the most valuable of those in consideration since he’s moved around to fill holes on a near-weekly basis.

It’s a real life, “anything you can do I can do better” situation. The only people who can’t see it are the people just looking at the sack total column.

Based on the current pace and the extra game this season, Micah Parsons is going to blow some cumulative rookie totals out of the water. Something Dan Morse pointed out in his recent article for D Magazine is how Parsons has already exceeded Khalil Mack‘s pass-rushing numbers from when he won honors and Parsons still has four games left in the season. That’s an amazing feat but the efficiency and different roles Parsons plays are even more important.

Remember, cumulative totals benefit those who have the most opportunities – not those who are the best. Let’s stay focused on what makes Parsons so special and that’s his efficiency and ability to be everywhere and do everything with greatness.

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No one should be talking about defensive rookie of the year awards anymore, Micah Parsons is clearly the 2021 defensive player of the year and the numbers all prove it.

  • Published on 12/16/2021 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 12/16/2021 at 12:53 PM