What awaits former Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons tonight at the NFL Draft? ESPN's Todd McShay suggests a slide based on "off-the-field issues" with which NFL front offices may, or may not, be concerned.
"Micah Parsons is the best defensive player in this draft based solely on tape, but he’s got some off-the-field issues, some past character stuff and some things that teams are concerned about in terms of bringing things in," McShay said on the ESPN First Draft podcast. "So he’s going to fall a little bit but, again, I think he’s going to be a star in the league. I really do."
The "off-the-field" questions might follow Parsons into the 2021 NFL Draft, which begins tonight in Cleveland. Teams might genuinely have concerns, or they might be deliberately messaging to affect his draft positioning.
But Parsons has not been shy about addressing these vague "issues" to which analysts refer. In fact, he confronted the question squarely at Penn State's Pro Day in March.
"At the end of the day, I believe that I was a kid," Parsons said. "I was 17-18. We all made mistakes when we were 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 was 3-4 years [ago] dictate who I've become and the father I want to be."
No specific "character issues" have been mentioned publicly, though Parsons' name appeared in a 2020 hazing lawsuit that a former Penn State player filed against the university and coach James Franklin. No charges were filed, and Parsons was not named as a defendant in the civil suit.
Parsons was among a group of players that allegedly hazed former Penn State player Isaiah Humphries, according to the lawsuit. Parsons did not address the suit specifically at Pro Day but did say that "obviously people have concerns about things that came up."
Parsons, who opted out of the 2020 season, said he has spoken to nearly every NFL team and recalled the particularly strong relationship he has with former Penn State assistant Sean Spencer, now with the New York Giants, who have the 11th pick. Parsons said that he's eager to play for a program that accepts him.
"Everyone is going to learn and grow," Parsons said. "... And if someone is going to judge me over that, then I’d rather not be in their program. I know the type of person I’m becoming. I know the type of father I’m becoming, and that’s all that matters to me.
"Anybody who’s willing to accept my wrongs when I was wrong and accept my rights when I’m right, I’m ready to go ahead and give it my all. But if it’s going to come down to something that I did in high school or something I wish I could change, I can only control what I can control and what I do moving forward."
Parsons shined at Penn State's Pro Day, running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds and reaching a 34-inch vertical jump. He is a consensus first-round draft pick and the top-rated defensive player in the NFL draft, according to NFL Draft Bible.
Former NFL head coach Jim Mora, now an analyst for multiple networks, said Parsons is "ready-made" for the NFL and doesn't expect the questions to follow him.
"I know there's been a couple questions out there lately about his character because of what happened a couple years ago, but I don't think that's going to be a factor," Mora said in an interview. "I think this guy's proven himself to be beyond reproach."
Franklin, who will attend the draft with defensive coordinator Brent Pry, said Parsons came a long way at Penn State.
"One of the things that he learned here, which I think is an important lesson that so many players need to learn, is: When is it time to have fun and be silly and mess around and laugh, and when is it time to lock in and be focused?" Franklin said. "And Micah's learned that. I think it's an important, important lesson to learn, something we talk about a lot with our guys, and Micah is in a really good place with that."
Regarding his playing future, Parsons remains confident about his ability, despite not being on the field last season.
"I just feel like I'm the most versatile player in this class," he said. "So I can play middle linebacker, I can play outside and I can pass-rush. I don't think there's any place I can't play. ... I'm going to utilize my skills and I'm going to just make plays happen as I did at Penn State."