Report: PSU's Parsons will opt out of 2020 season, declare for NFL draft

(Wilkes-Barre) Times-Leader (TNS)
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 28: Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Micah Parsons (11) celebrates after a sack during the Cotton Bowl Classic college football game against the Memphis Tigers on December 28, 2019 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

If there is indeed a 2020 college football season, it will likely be played without Penn State’s most decorated player.

Junior linebacker Micah Parsons has reportedly opted out of playing during the coronavirus pandemic and will focus on preparing for next year’s NFL draft, where he is projected as a first-round pick.

Rumblings of Parsons’ decision began at the start of the week and Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday night that the All-American was expected to end his college career early.

Parsons was expected to make his choice public on Wednesday morning, but as of late Wednesday afternoon, no official announcement had been made. If the report is accurate, Parsons will become the highest-profile player in the country so far to opt out of playing.

The Harrisburg native led the Lions in tackles each of the last two seasons and was set to spearhead one of the country’s top defenses again this fall. But with the future on the line for himself and his family, he will limit his exposure to the virus by not playing.

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Parsons follows similar decisions by Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, another potential first-round pick, and Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman, both of whom will not play because of COVID-19 concerns.

New set of PSU linebackers: The next time Penn State does take the field, it will be with three new starting linebackers as Cam Brown and Jan Johnson have graduated.

Parsons’ good friend and roommate Jesse Luketa would be in the mix along with Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith. But the biggest beneficiary could be sophomore Charlie Katshir, who was No. 2 on Penn State’s depth chart behind Parsons in the spring.

Despite the turnover at the position, Penn State has recruited linebacker very well since Parsons joined the team as the country’s No. 5 overall recruit in the 2018 signing class.

That started a run of three straight years where the Lions’s top-rated recruit was a linebacker, followed by Smith in 2019 and incoming freshman Curtis Jacobs for 2020.

Finding his groove: But Parsons had the highest potential out of anyone on Penn State’s roster, having found his groove at linebacker by the end of last season after playing defensive end in high school.

He was especially dominant in December’s Cotton Bowl win over Memphis, winning defensive MVP honors for the game with 14 tackles and two sacks while forcing a late pick-six that put the Lions in control.

Micah Parsons

“My game truly did evolve,” Parsons said on a video call with reporters in June. “I was somebody that didn’t know anything. I would say my first spring ball I was just out there — fish out of water. I was just clueless. I was out there running around trying to make plays.

“Once (defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry) helped me figure out how to fit in his system and do what I do, I think that’s when I started to get better and better. I have more understanding of the game. I have a way of finding my way to the ball the right way and fitting in the system.”

High ceiling: Penn State’s testing numbers on the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder include a 4.43 time in the 40 and a pro agility test time of 4.24, which puts him among the best of the best.

Lions coach James Franklin summed up Parsons’ situation back in October.

“I don’t think he’s anywhere close to his ceiling,” Franklin said. “And I don’t want to come off the wrong way because I think he’s one of the better players in college football, but this is all still very new to him. And he’s embraced the techniques and the fundamentals and things like that of the position, but I think he can be even better there.”

Pro scouts and draft pundits think so, too, as Parsons has already been listed as high No. 4 overall in some early projections.

Regardless, it will cap a wild few years for Penn State and Parsons, who initially committed to the program as a high school sophomore in 2016. He reopened his recruitment a year later and looked to be headed to play for rival Ohio State before ultimately signing with Penn State in December 2017.