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Linebacker Micah Parsons touts versatility as Lions weigh first-round draft options

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

The Detroit Lions are keeping close tabs on Micah Parsons heading into the draft, and the Penn State linebacker certainly added to his appeal with a strong showing at his pro day on Thursday. 

Measuring in at a prototypical 6-foot-3, 246 pounds for his position, Parsons went on to be timed at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That matches the mark posted by Isaiah Simmons, who was selected No. 8 by the Arizona Cardinals a year ago. 

Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons opted out of the 2020 season.

Talking to reporters on a video call after the event, Parsons mentioned being in contact with several teams, including a pair of earlier conversations with the Lions, as well as an additional chat with a member of the team's coaching staff on Wednesday. 

Even following the recent signing of Alex Anzalone this week, the Lions are still in need of a long-term producer at linebacker, particularly one with Parson's play-making pedigree. 

Parsons opted out in 2020 after the Big Ten initially canceled the season before reversing course and starting a shortened campaign in late October. By that point, Parsons had already shifted his focus to preparing for the upcoming draft. 

As a true sophomore in 2019, he earned consensus All-American honors, recording 109 tackles (14 for a loss), five sacks, five pass defenses and four forced fumbles. 

A two-way player in high school, he racked up big yardage as a running back and big sack totals as a defensive end. Parsons primarily operated off the ball at Penn State, developing into one of the nation's best run stoppers. 

He also occasionally lined up along the line of scrimmage to rush the passer for the Nittany Lions, and said several pro teams have discussed utilizing him in that role in clear, third-down pass situations.

"I just feel like I'm the most versatile player in this class," Parsons said. "I can play middle linebacker, I can play outside and I can pass rush. I don't think there's no place I can't play at the linebacker spots."

Talent evaluators have minimal concerns about Parsons' on-field abilities, but several analysts have projected him to slide to the end of the first round because of character issues, dating to high school. 

In 2016, Parsons transferred high schools because of an incident at Central Dauphin where he was suspended multiple days after being accused of attempting to "incite a riot" by the school. His father claimed Parsons had been angered by a racist social media post made by some students at the school.

In college, Parsons was suspended part of a game for violating team rules, but a more concerning issue stemmed from allegations by former teammate Isaiah Humphries, who identified Parsons as a ringleader in a hazing incident that led to a lawsuit against the school. 

Humphries and Parsons allegedly had a physical altercation, and Humphries accused Penn State coach James Franklin of pressuring him not to talk to the police to protect Parsons. 

In January, local authorities determined no charges would be filed related to the incident. 

Parsons was asked about concerns regarding his character, and while not addressing any specifically, stated he's matured and his mistakes in the past are not a reflection of who he is now. 

"Obviously, people have concerns about things that came up," Parsons said. "But, at the end of the day, I believe I was a kid. I was 17, 18. We all made mistakes when we were 17, 18. I'm not going to let it control, dictate the person that I am now. I'm not going to let something that was three or four years (ago) dictate who I'm becoming and the father I want to be.

"Everyone is going to learn and grow," Parsons continued. "Pretty sure none of you are making the same mistakes when y'all were 17, 18 or even 25. If someone is going to judge me over that, I'd rather not be in their program. I know what type of person I'm becoming. I know what type of father I'm becoming. That's all that matters to me."

The Lions currently hold the No. 7 pick in the draft. That's probably too high to consider Parsons, both because of the character concerns and the positional value of an off-ball linebacker that early in the first round. 

Parsons is more likely to be in play either if the Lions are able to move back in the first round, or trade back into the later half of the round if the linebacker does slide.

Twitter: @justin_rogers