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Micah Parsons in a league of his own as blitzing linebacker

The Cowboys rookie did a little of everything, but was clearly at his best chasing quarterbacks.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With sensational rookie linebacker Micah Parsons doing something new and impressive every week last season, it was easy to lose sight of just how dominant he was in pass rush. Dan Quinn and the Dallas Cowboys saw something in Parsons’ potential as a rusher that instantly made him not only a draft steal, but a player to build this entire defense around.

The list of positions the Cowboys have lost starting talent at this offseason is long, but there’s cautious optimism for the players that should see more snaps because of it. Defensive end may not have been an expected need if Randy Gregory’s deal didn’t fall through, but if it means more snaps for Parsons going after the quarterback, the Cowboys could see another league-leading performance.

Micah Parsons not only led the NFL in pass rush snaps from linebackers last season, but was one of the most efficient at creating pressure.

With Parsons being a do-it-all player that just happens to have the LB designation next to his name, his snaps with a hand on the ground at defensive end are counted as blitzes here. In a defense as multiple as Quinn’s, pass rush schemes aren’t affected much by how a player lines up. The second-year defensive coordinator has successfully made that transition with the Cowboys, preferring defensive ends lining up with a hand in the dirt and linebackers roaming behind them before Quinn’s arrival.

Whether it’s traditional stand up blitzes that linebackers typically run, or a true defensive end rep, the goal for Dallas needs to be maximizing Parsons pressuring quarterbacks this season.

Way-too-early projections of this Cowboys roster before the draft highlighted their need at defensive end, but now the bigger concern may be at linebacker. The Cowboys drafted Sam Williams in the second round, re-signed Dorance Armstrong, added Dante Fowler in free agency, and can count on Parsons as an end too. Fowler is another linebacker hybrid player who will spend most of his time in pass rush.

Dallas is already thin at linebacker with Jabril Cox fighting Leighton Vander Esch for one starting position next to Parsons on the depth chart. A dominant pass rush can make up for a lot of other concerns on defense though, and that’s exactly what the Cowboys are hoping for from their versatile mix of defensive linemen and linebackers. If Quinn was able to trust the back end of his defense - led by Trevon Diggs - enough last season to play this aggressive style with Parsons, he may be able to do even more this season.

The Cowboys still have Diggs at one cornerback position, a veteran presence around him with Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown, plus continuity at safety with Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, and Donovan Wilson. In the great pass rush vs. coverage debate, the Cowboys have an enticing mix of both, and the right coordinator to get them in successful looks.

All of these pressures from Parsons yielded 13 sacks, two shy of the all-time record for a rookie. With many more highlight worthy plays in coverage, Parsons was the Cowboys best pass rusher and one of the league’s best blitz players in just a part-time defensive end role.

It’s taken a long time this offseason for much of the Cowboys plan to come into focus, but they feel poised to let Micah Parsons do what he absolutely does best a whole lot this season. Anybody that watched Parsons play this season could tell he was in a league of his own, but to see him truly standing out above every other linebacker in the NFL is yet another new way to praise the 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year.

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