It might be hard to believe, but league-wide attention in the first handful of games last season was centered around the young dynamic defensive duo of Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs, who were major reasons why the Dallas Cowboys jumped out to a 6-1 record.
The Los Angeles Rams had the same record through their first seven games, though a three-game losing streak in November made some question the championship legitimacy of a team consisting of future defensive Hall-of-Famers Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald.
But even with all the early-season hype, it was the legendary LA duo that got the last laugh. Donald and Ramsey won a Super Bowl on their home field while Parsons and Diggs sat at home following a first-round loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Think this is deterring Parsons' confidence in the way he sees himself and Diggs as arguably the league's best defensive duo? Think again.
“It’s hard to say we’re the best because I know we’re young and we still make mistakes,” Parsons told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s hard to put us over Aaron Donald, the greatest defensive player in history, with Jalen Ramsey. So I won’t do it yet. But I think we can become them or even better if we learn together and stick together.”
If the career trajectory pans out, Parsons' opinion might not be considered too much of a hot take.
The Penn State product already has a few early-career similarities with Donald, aside from the fact both are Pennsylvania natives who were selected in the same draft range at 12th and 13th overall, respectively.
Like Parsons did last season, Donald won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014 and likely would've been the second-place finisher for Defensive Player of the Year that season if not for a unanimous selection for J.J Watt. Strangely enough, Watt's brother, T.J, won the honor this past season while Parsons and Donald finished in second and third place, respectively.
But through 16 games played in 2021, Parsons had more sacks (13) and total tackles (84) as a rookie than Donald did (nine sacks, 48 total tackles) and did it all while being tasked with occasionally dropping back into short coverage, where he had three passes defended.
He'll have a long way to go to match Donald's three Defensive Player of the Year Awards, but the career comparison after one season favors Parsons. He's got the same kind of confidence in his Pro-Bowl teammate Diggs as well.
"I love Diggs cause he a dog, and dogs understand dogs," Parsons said. “His (risk) is pointed out more because he has such a one-on-one position. People don’t realize that a lot of people gamble throughout the game. Even I gamble. Any time a quarterback gets outside the pocket, it means a defensive lineman gambled, because it’s all really a contained rush. The QB should never escape the pocket. Any time a running back gets loose, that means you took a gamble as a linebacker.
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Through two seasons in the league, Diggs has just one less interception (14) than Ramsey does in his seven-year All-Pro career (15). As Parsons touched on, his teammate loves to gamble, a different approach from a shutdown corner like Ramsey, who is rarely targeted by quarterbacks.
But Diggs could easily surpass Ramsey's interception total this season. It's not nothing to be able to say that he could soon have more career picks than one of the best defensive backs in the NFL.
“Without a doubt I thought (Diggs) was the best defensive player in the league last year,” Parsons said. “We’ve seen 20 sacks before. But in this era, we’ve never seen anyone reach 10-plus interceptions. So it’s disrespectful to me, because I think he deserves all the credit in the world and deserves to be named a top-five corner if not the best corner in the league.”
The Rams head into the 2022-23 season as defending Super Bowl champs while Parsons and Diggs are still searching for their first playoff win. The regular-season stats and accolades are impressive, but it's the postseason hardware that can help set Dallas' duo apart from the league's best.
Luckily for the Cowboys, Parsons has a clear vision for himself as this season approaches.
“I would just say last year I was a fish in the water,” Parsons said. “I was still growing so much mentally and as a player, and I think when you’re a rookie first getting in the league, you’re trying to see if you belong or not. I think I kind of know where I want to be and where I’m at in this league."
You can follow Zach Dimmitt on Twitter at @ZachDimmitt7
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