The 2021 NFL Draft was supposed to be rich with quarterback prospects. Ultimately, five passers were taken in the first 15 picks. But the Dallas Cowboys might have hit the biggest home run so far by taking linebacker Micah Parsons 12th overall.
There was some luck involved, of course, as it goes with many NFL Draft success stories. So let’s look back at everything that led up to Parsons falling into Dallas’ laps.
Pick 1: Jacksonville Jaguars select Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
Why they made the pick: Lawrence was a prodigious quarterback prospect and was deemed the top overall pick in this class since his final collegiate season began.
Would Jacksonville choose Parsons instead? Probably not. Lawrence hasn’t developed as quickly as many Jaguars fans would’ve liked. But his entire rookie season was undermined by the failed Urban Meyer experiment. Lawrence still goes 1st overall even in hindsight.
Pick 2: New York Jets select BYU QB Zach Wilson
Why they made the pick: The Jets are probably asking themselves this today. Wilson was drafted based on a strong final season at BYU, and was often compared to Josh Allen for his arm talent and ability to make off-platform throws. But Wilson has not panned out and isn’t even the team’s starter as of right now.
Would New York choose Parsons instead? No. If the Jets had this pick again, they’d use it on another QB.
Pick 3: San Francisco 49ers select North Dakota State QB Trey Lance
Why they made the pick: The 49ers traded up in the draft to land their franchise QB after mixed results from Jimmy Garoppolo.
Would San Francisco choose Parsons instead? No. The 49ers already had a loaded defense and probably would go with Lance again given his bad injury luck this year.
Pick 4: Atlanta Falcons select Florida TE Kyle Pitts
Why they made the pick: Pitts was projected to be a transcendent tight end prospect with incredible size and athleticism and was viewed by some as the best pass catcher in the class.
Would Atlanta choose Parsons instead? It’s certainly possible. The Falcons could’ve gone many different directions with this pick, and Parsons would certainly be up there. However, Atlanta probably would have gone with a QB or different pass catcher.
Pick 5: Cincinnati Bengals select LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase
Why they made the pick: Chase opted out of the 2020 season after an amazing campaign for the national champion Tigers, but was still deemed as an incredible prospect. He was also teammates at LSU with quarterback Joe Burrow.
Would Cincinnati choose Parsons instead? Absolutely not. Chase played an instrumental role in helping Cincinnati make a Super Bowl run as a rookie. He’s perhaps the only player taken before Parsons who has made more of an impact on his team.
Pick 6: Miami Dolphins select Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle
Why they made the pick: The Dolphins needed a dynamic playmaker for QB Tua Tagovailoa, so they paired Tua with his former Alabama teammate.
Would Miami choose Parsons instead? It’s close, but probably not. Waddle’s speed has already been an enormous asset for Miami’s offense, which has taken off in 2022.
Pick 7: Detroit Lions select Oregon OT Penei Sewell
Why they made the pick: Sewell was regarded as the top pass blocker in the class and was drafted to anchor Detroit’s offensive line.
Would Detroit choose Parsons instead? Yes. Sewell hasn’t been bad. But Detroit’s defense has been one of the worst in the league, and Parsons would likely have changed Detroit’s trajectory.
Pick 8: Carolina Panthers select South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn
Why they made the pick: Horn lifted his stock throughout the season and wound up being widely regarded as the top cornerback in the class. Horn filled a glaring need for Carolina’s defense.
Would Carolina choose Parsons instead? It’s possible, although Carolina’s greater need was still in the secondary than in the front seven. The Panthers likely would’ve chosen Pat Surtain instead.
Pick 9: Denver Broncos select Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II
Why they made the pick: Denver lacked a true shutdown corner and Surtain was one of the best defensive prospects in the class.
Would Denver choose Parsons instead? Probably not. Surtain has turned out to be the best cornerback in the class.
Pick 10: Philadelphia Eagles trade up with Dallas and select Alabama WR DeVonta Smith
Why they made the pick: The Cowboys were originally slated to pick 10th and were seeking a top-tier cornerback to help shore up an atrocious pass defense. But once Horn and Surtain II were taken with the two picks before theirs, the Cowboys shrewdly traded down with a division rival.
The Philadelphia Eagles moved up two spots to draft Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who was the Heisman Trophy winner and was drafted to be Philly’s top option in the passing game.
Pick 11: Chicago Bears trade up with the New York Giants and select QB Justin Fields
Why they made the pick: Nobody knows what Dave Gettleman was thinking when he traded down and passed up the opportunity to draft a franchise QB. The Bears were willing trade partners and landed their long-awaited savior at the position. The Giants wound up taking receiver Kadarius Toney with the 20th overall pick. Ouch.
Pick 12: Dallas Cowboys select Penn State LB Micah Parsons
Why they made the pick: Parsons was the best player on the board at this point, and probably wouldn’t have fallen this far had he played the 2020 season. Dallas was transitioning away from Sean Lee, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith at linebacker. So they took the best player available and haven’t looked back.
Parsons could be a generational talent for Dallas and has already elevated the defense into one of the best in the NFL. He’ll be a big reason why the Cowboys make a sustained playoff run in 2022, and perhaps no player has made a greater impact in the 2021 class thus far.