In the history of the award, only one player has ever won both AP Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY) and Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) honors: Lawrence Taylor in 1981. Forty years later, Dallas Cowboys rookie Micah Parsons is making a run to become the second.
The first-round pick out of Penn State has been an incredible addition to a Cowboys defense that struggled mightily in 2020. Last year, Dallas allowed 29.6 points and 386.4 offensive yards per game, both bottom-10 marks in the NFL. They finished 6-10 and third in the NFC East.
While the Cowboys still haven’t risen into the top tier of NFL defenses, they’ve looked much improved on that side of the ball. That’s in no small part thanks to the physical, pass-rushing force that Parsons has proven to be. He was tied for the league lead in tackles for a loss (16) entering Sunday’s game against Washington. With two sacks in the first half on Sunday afternoon, he’s also moved into a three-way tie for fourth on the NFL sacks leaderboard. Parsons’ performance in Washington also extended his streak to six straight games with at least one sack, and his 9.5 sacks over that stretch match the rookie record for sacks in a six-game span.
Parsons is already a shoo-in for the NFL’s DROY award. There isn’t another rookie in the league who has come close to being the defensive menace he’s been through 14 weeks. The only question that’s left is where his performance ranks among all NFL defenders at season’s end, and whether he can become the second player ever to win DPOY as well.
The 2021 12th overall pick entered the season as the favorite to win DROY. But because he was a rookie, he was still a longshot to be Defensive Player of the Year before the season began. Parsons faced odds as long as +20000 after the opening weeks of the 2021 season.
Yet, over the last eight games—and as his sack total steadily grew—he’s fought his way into the top 10 in betting odds. The Penn State product entered Sunday with the eighth-best odds to win the 2021 DPOY award at 30-1. With two more sacks against Washington, his odds have jumped to 20-1, now the sixth-highest odds of any defender.
Perhaps the wildest part about Parsons’ rise to the elite tier of pass rushers is that the Cowboys didn’t envision him as a sack monster when they drafted him. He recorded 6.5 sacks in his two-year college career. He was mostly a good off-the-ball linebacker who could occasionally find success when called upon to rush the quarterback.
Then, ahead of a Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Chargers, edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence went down with a broken foot and new Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn unleashed the rookie. According to Parsons, he hadn’t rushed the passer as often as he did in that game since his time as a defensive end in high school. He recorded his first career sack against Justin Herbert that day in what has turned out to be a sign of what was to come. Now, through 14 weeks in his first year, Parsons is already among the most dangerous pass rushers in the entire NFL.
So… yeah. Parsons is going to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. He locked that award up weeks ago and his two extra sacks against Washington aren’t hurting his case there. With 12 sacks on the season, he needs just three more in Dallas’ final four games to break the rookie sack record. Even so, he’s still got some work to lock up Defensive Player of the Year.
T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett have each racked up 15 or more sacks, and Parsons will need to put in serious work to match them. Regardless of whether he does, the Cowboys rookie deserves a boatload of credit for the monster season he’s having. He’s put the NFC East—and the entire NFL –– on notice, and he’ll likely contend for that DPOY award for years to come.