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Micah Parsons is already one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, and he’s just getting started

The second-year defender continues to impress

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Late in the first quarter of Sunday’s tilt between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Dallas Cowboys, the Bengals faced a 2nd and 11 in Cowboys’ territory.

Quarterback Joe Burrow took the shotgun snap from center Ted Karras and quickly faced a flash of white and silver off the right edge. Bearing down on him was second-year defender Micah Parsons, who had just gotten past his former teammate, right tackle La’el Collins.

Somehow, Burrow managed to avoid Parsons, showing some nifty footwork in the pocket. The quarterback flashed an initial move forward in the pocket, causing Parsons to flatten his path to the passer, before retreating and dipping around Parsons. It was a quick, athletic move that allowed Burrow to escape Parsons as he screamed into the pocket.

But Parsons was not done:

Just as quickly as Parsons blows by Burrow on his initial rush into the pocket, the defender changes directions, stopping on a dime to double back and get home for the sack. Sometimes, a picture is worth the proverbial 1,000 words, and this is one such moment:

There is Parsons, driving his right foot into the turf at AT&T Stadium, changing directions while snapping his eyes back towards the quarterback. In one moment, Parsons goes from running full-tilt in run direction, to immediately changing course, backtracking to get to Burrow and finish the play.

This is, for lack of a better word, absurd.

But we have begun to expect the absurd from Parsons, who is coming off a year where he secured Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and was in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year, finishing second behind T.J. Watt. He posted 13 total sacks as a rookie, and looks even better already in year two.

Parsons already has four sacks on the young season, having notched a pair of sacks in each game this season. He got to Tom Brady twice back in Week 1, including this sack from the second quarter where he flashed an impressive counter, spinning to the inside against left tackle Donovan Smith to get to the quarterback:

Later in the game, Parsons got to Brady again in the red zone, using an impressive dip-and-rip move off the edge against backup tackle Josh Wells:

What is scary is the fact that Parsons is still rounding out his array of pass-rushing moves off the edge. While in college, Parsons flashed the traits to be a successful pass rusher, but was used in more of an off-ball role. According to the 2021 Pro Football Focus draft guide, and PFF’s charting data, Parsons played 731 defensive snaps during the 2019 season, his last in college football as he opted-out of the 2020 season. Of those snaps, 590 saw him aligned in the box — in contrast with 59 snaps along the defensive line — and PFF charted him with just 94 pass-rushing snaps.

Still, the traits were there for him to be a productive pass rusher. As noted by PFF in their guide, “[h]e’s got the type of size and skill set that could make him the first edge rusher drafted if he wanted to switch to that position.”

Under Dan Quinn in Dallas, Parsons has been used often as an edge defender, and the results speak for themselves. Last season, Parsons saw 374 of his 902 snaps along the edge, and that usage has increased this season. Of his 120 defensive snaps this season, 95 have come with him on the edge.

And as we close this out with a look at his second sack on Sunday, as he uses another rip move to the outside against Jonah Williams, we can be reminded that he is just getting started at playing off the edge:

Imagine what this could look like when he pieces it all together?