Name: Micah Parsons
School: Penn State
How he fits: The Lions released veteran linebacker Christian Jones ahead of the start of free agency. Former first-round pick Jarrad Davis signed with the Jets and Reggie Ragland signed with the Giants. That's 3/4 of Detroit's main linebacker crew from a year ago not returning in 2021.
It's clear general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell want to remake that position group. Detroit's best linebacker from last year, Jamie Collins Sr., is back, and the team also re-signed Jalen Reeves-Maybin, potentially with the idea of playing him more on defense. It's still a unit the Lions have some work to do to retool.
That's where Parsons comes in. The former Penn State product is arguably the best defensive player in a 2021 NFL Draft void of top-end defensive talent. Parsons is big, physical and fast, and can do a little bit of everything. Don't be surprised if we see him run the 40 in the 4.4 range at his pro day March 25.
He opted out of the 2020 season, but in 2019 he recorded 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks and four forced fumbles in a full season of work for the Nittany Lions. He can play any linebacker spot, which would make him a valuable asset in Aaron Glenn's defense.
Key observations: Parsons transitioned from defensive end to linebacker after arriving at Penn State and twice led the team in tackles. In 26 career college games, he notched 191 tackles (18 for loss) and 6.5 sacks. He has the highest run defense grade from Pro Football Focus by any linebacker in the 2021 draft class (92.4).
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said he has a higher grade on Parsons than all three of the off-the-ball linebackers taken in the first round in last year's draft (Kenneth Murray, Patrick Queen and Jordyn Brooks). Jeremiah compared Parsons to Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith when he was coming out of Notre Dame a few years back.
What they had to say about him: "Performance-grade inside/outside linebacker prospect possessing an NFL-ready frame and explosive speed that could make him a highly productive talent at the next level. He's most impactful when he's kept clean and allowed to run and chase the action, but carries no physical limitations into the pros.
"His instincts and play recognition need to catch up with his physical gifts in order to play downhill and find the most efficient routes to the football. His rush talent is a potential wild card in how teams decide to use him, but he's likely to show rapid improvement and should be a Day 1 starter." – NFL analyst Lance Zierlein
What he had to say: "I think people underestimate what it takes to be a champion! The sacrifice, determination, grind, time, and so on! I find myself looking up to anyone who is willing to do whatever it takes to be number 1 in their sport!" Parsons said in a recent tweet.