Should Micah Parsons play defensive end full time?

Micah Parsons’ performance in his first year impressed many in the NFL. The linebacker, the Cowboys’ first-round pick in the last Draft, was a real threat to opposing defenses. However, we witnessed the biggest bang for him when he alternated his usual position with defensive end. This, let’s remember, due to Dallas’ losses at that position last season.

Now, after seeing what Parsons showed in 2021, the clamor from many is for Parsons to play defensive end full time. More so now, after the departure of Randy Gregory to the Denver Broncos. Still, the Cowboys’ coaching staff seems to have a clear stance: keep Parsons in his hybrid role of linebacker and defensive end in 2022.

“It would be very easy to line him up at (defensive) end and have him play there every down.”coach Mike McCarthy said last week. “But we made it clear: we want it to be on the move. He is an impact player, and we have to make sure we create as many opportunities for him as possible. But he must also create opportunities for others.”

After these words from McCarthy, the plan seems clear: take advantage of Parsons’ versatility to keep opposing offensive coordinators guessing where he will defend. Whether it’s as a linebacker, as a defensive end or as a designated pass-rusher.

Now, is the Cowboys coaching staff doing the right thing here? As seen last year, it may be so. This is reflected by a Analysis by Dallas Morning News of Micah Parsons’ game recordings, based on data from Pro Football Focus.

First of all, let’s recall Parsons’ 2021 regular-season stats: 84 combined tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 30 quarterback hits, 13 sacks, 67 rushes, three passes defensed and three forced fumbles. Numbers that earned him to unanimously win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award according to The Associated Press.

Of those 13 sacks, analysis of the recordings by the Dallas Morning News reveals that Parsons made the same number playing linebacker as defensive end: 6.5 sacks from each position. This, it’s worth noting, despite playing more snaps as a linebacker (540) than as a defensive end (390).

Another stat to consider is quarterback pressure during the regular season. In that section, Parsons generated pressures on 43 of his 222 pressures at defensive end, for a pressure rate of 19.4%. Meanwhile, from the linebacker position, he managed to pressure the quarterback in 21 of his 64 pressures (32.8%).

Needless to say, Micah Parsons’ versatility on defense is something defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has capitalized on. Quinn often varies the position of the linebacker on the field depending on the matchup, the snap or the specific game situation. In fact, some of Parsons’ most successful pass rushing plays in 2021 came in a “disguised” role on defense.

Of course, this has its advantages beyond Parsons’ output on defense. His position changes allow opposing offensive coordinators to be misled by not knowing where the Penn State product will come from. Additionally, the #11’s versatility also allows him to free up his teammates on specific plays.

Now, keeping Parsons in a hybrid role also means the team needs to beef up the defensive end position. Right now, Dallas has DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Tarell Basham, Chauncey Golston and Dante Fowler. However, the team may need to add another impact player to that position, either through the draft or through free agency.

With Dan Quinn continuing as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, there’s a good chance Micah Parsons’ versatility will be tapped again. Of course, that raises expectations around the linebacker in his second year as a pro. In 2022, Parsons will be a key player in Dallas’ defensive performance. And, for this, giving him a hybrid role can be key to fully exploiting his potential.

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Should Micah Parsons play defensive end full time?