INDIANAPOLIS – Dallas Cowboys rookie Micah Parsons changed the expectations teams have for versatile, young linebackers entering the NFL.
Parsons, a do-it-all linebacker for Penn State in 2020, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at last year's Combine and turned heads with his on-field workouts. He was selected 12th overall by Dallas in last year's NFL Draft and won Defensive Rookie of the Year after registering 84 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 13.0 sacks and three forced fumbles. Every team in the NFL is now looking for the next Parsons for their defense.
None of the prospects in this year's class match Parsons athletically, but there are some versatile playmakers and some guys who will be able to help defenses right away.
The Lions are certainly on the lookout this offseason to add to their linebacker room. Alex Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who played the most snaps among any Detroit linebackers last season, are unrestricted free agents. The Lions return second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes, who is being trained to be the MIKE of the future, but he can also play the WILL or the SAM, which gives Detroit some options.
Detroit's move to more of a base 4-3 defense means they need to bolster their linebacker corps. It's a pretty big need with only Barnes, Josh Woods, Anthony Pittman (Exclusive rights) and Curtis Bolton currently under contract.
Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean and Utah's Devin Lloyd are the top two at linebacker and could offer teams some of the versatility Parsons gives the Cowboys' defense.
Dean recorded 72 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks and picked off a couple passes while defending five passes and scoring a touchdown for the Bulldogs this past season. He was the leader in the middle for Georgia's championship defense. He said the feedback he's getting from teams so far is he'll be a middle linebacker in the NFL. He said he wants the green dot and the play-calling duties from Day 1.
"I feel like I can be a great fit in any defense," Dean said Friday at the Combine. "At Georgia, we were able to run 4-2-5, 3-4, 4-3. We ran basically all different types of personnel. So I just feel like I have to get in with a system, learn it, and I feel like I can thrive at any one."
Lloyd could come in and be a hybrid SAM linebacker with his ability to play off the ball and give teams some pass-rush prowess off the edge. He recorded 111 tackles (66 solo) with 22.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, four interceptions, six passes defended and two touchdowns for the Utes in 2021.
"You know, I think I'm a versatile player," Lloyd said. "I think I can do anything on the field and so, whatever team utilizes me to the best of my skill set is where I'll have the most success."
Lloyd said Parson's season last year was definitely inspiring to young linebackers entering the league, and he plans on having a similar impact for whatever team drafts him.
Gerogia's Quay Walker and Alabama's Christian Harris are a couple other names who could be immediate impact players at linebacker .
Whether it's free agency, which starts in a couple weeks, or the draft, the Lions do have to add talent, depth and competition to their linebacker room this offseason.