NFL draft: PSU's Micah Parsons not expected to be penalized for youthful indiscretions

PAUL DOMOWITCH
The Philadelphia Inquirer (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)

Micah Parsons was doing what every other kid does during the post-college job search process.

He was selling himself.

On this day in late March, the audience was 63 reporters on a Zoom call following Penn State's Pro Day.

In the days and week prior to that, it was a succession of NFL teams trying to fill in the on- and off-field blanks on the draft's No. 1-rated linebacker.

"I just feel I'm the most versatile player in this class," Parsons said less than an hour after running a stunning 4.36-second 40-yard dash during his workout for scouts at Penn State's indoor practice facility, Holuba Hall.

"I can play middle linebacker. I can play outside, and I can pass-rush. There's no place I can't play and utilize my skills. I'm going to make plays at the next level just like I did at Penn State."

It's actually been a while since the 6-foot-3, 246-pounder has made plays. He opted out of the 2020 season because of the pandemic. But, based on his impressive 2019 tape and last month's prolific Pro Day numbers, he is considered the top linebacker — and maybe the No. 1 defensive player — in the draft.

He was an all-over-the-field force in his only season as a starter for the Nits, chasing down ball carriers, harassing quarterbacks, and covering tight ends and running backs. He had a team-high 109 tackles and 14 tackles for losses. He had five sacks, four forced fumbles, and five passes defensed.

“I would have loved to have seen him [play] this year,” NFL Network senior draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “But I get it. He put so much good stuff on tape in ’19 that he made the decision he did [not to play]. It’s not going to hurt him.”

Parsons was one of about two dozen players projected to go in the first two rounds of this week’s draft who chose not to play last season. Many others in conferences such as the Big 10 and Pac 10 played a limited number of games after the conferences reversed decisions to cancel their seasons.

“I honestly did want to come back and play,” Parsons said. “But my family made the decision. For a long time, it wasn’t clear what the Big 10 was going to do. I had already started training [for the draft] in September when they said they were going to play after all.”

Parsons is a lock to hear his name called in the first round Thursday night. Most projections have him going anywhere from nine to 15. The most popular landing spot seems to be Denver at nine.

“It would be fun to watch what [Broncos coach] Vic [Fangio] could do with Parsons just because he can so many different things, and Vic could be creative with him,” Jeremiah said. “You could change his role week to week depending on how you wanted to use him.

“I think he’s got a chance to be a really good [pass] rusher. If you just wanted to cut him loose and let him do some of that stuff, you could.”

A good comparison for Parsons is Tampa Bay Bucs linebacker Devin White, who has developed into one of the league’s top linebackers in just two seasons. Parsons is bigger and faster than White.

“He’s a similar type of player,” said NFL Network draft analyst Ben Fennell. “He’s not a guy you want to give too much coverage responsibility to. He’s a see-ball, get-ball, sub-rushing type of guy. You want to keep it in front of him.

“He’s still a pretty young player. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been the best player out there. He’s easy to find.”

Character questions: The biggest question NFL teams have had about Parsons during the predraft process had little to do with his on-field ability. It had a lot to do with character.

The Harrisburg native was involved in a pair of incidents, one in high school and another three years ago when he was a freshman at Penn State that raised maturity concerns with teams.

During the fall of his junior year at Harrisburg’s Central Dauphin High School, he was suspended for an incident in the school cafeteria. Soon after, he transferred to Harrisburg High.

When he was a freshman at Penn State in 2018, a former teammate, Isaiah Humphries, accused Parsons and three other Penn State players — Damion Barber, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Jesse Luketa — of repeatedly hazing and harassing him over a nine-month period.

Humphries, who transferred to the University of California after the 2018 season, filed a lawsuit against Penn State, head coach James Franklin, and Barber in January 2020.

Parsons wasn't named in the suit. But, in an amended complaint filed in October, Humphries claimed that Parsons punched him in the face and choked him during a March 2018 encounter. Humphries reacted by brandishing a knife. No one was seriously hurt.

Parsons ended up being placed on conduct probation by the school for seven months but wasn't suspended from the football team. As a sophomore in 2019, he was benched for the beginning of a game against Minnesota but did play. Franklin called it "behavior modification."

In his suit, Humphries also claimed that Parsons and the other three players did other things to him, including waving their penises in his face while simulating ejaculation, and placing their penises on and in his buttocks.

Questions from NFL folks: Parsons acknowledged that NFL teams questioned him about the incidents during his predraft interviews with them.

"Obviously, people had some concerns about things that had happened," he said. "But at the end of the day, I believe I was a kid. I was 17, 18. I'm not going to let it control or dictate the person I am now. I'm not going to let something that happened four years ago dictate who I'm becoming and the father I want to be.

"Everyone learns and grows. I'm pretty sure none of you are making the same mistakes you made when you were 17 or 18, or even 25. If someone is going to judge me over that, then I would rather not be in their program. I know the type of person I'm becoming. I know the type of father I'm becoming. That's all that matters to me.

"Anybody who is willing to accept my wrongs when I was wrong and my rights when I was right, I'm ready to give them my all. But if it's going to come down to something I did in high school, I can only control what I can control moving forward. That's how I feel about it."

When asked in late 2019 about Parsons' character and maturity, Franklin gave what could be described as a tepid vote of confidence, saying, "99.9 percent of the time he's been good."

Past likely won't hurt him in draft: The Inquirer talked to three NFL personnel executives about Parsons. All three said the incidents involving him, both in high school and at Penn State, have had no impact on where they have Parsons on their respective draft boards.

"Just like every year, we've taken several people off our board because of character concerns," one of the personnel people said. "But he's not one of them. Unless something unexpected happens between now and Thursday, I don't think any team will have any reservations about drafting him."

Parsons credits Pry, Spencer: Parsons credited his coaches at Penn State, particularly defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Brent Pry, and former defensive line coach Sean Spencer, for developing him as a player and helping him "change my character and show me who I want to be and how to be a professional."

"Coach Pry always held me to high expectations," Parsons said. "He and the rest of the coaches pushed me to get better every day. They knew what I could do and what I was capable of."