Being a 1st-round draft pick for any NFL team comes with plenty of pressure. But for Micah Parsons, joining the Dallas Cowboys as the 12th overall pick and at linebacker puts the 21-year-old in a true crucible of scrutiny. Along with the typical expectations, Parsons is a hoped-for savior as the team has long searched for a superstar at the position and remains haunted by its past failures.
If Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith had worked out as planned, Parsons would've never become a Cowboy. But the former 2018 1st-rounder and 2016 2nd-round selection are entering 2021 as two of the biggest question marks on the roster.
Selecting Parsons as high as they did, and then Jabril Cox in the 4th Round, indicates the Cowboys are preparing to move on from at least one or both of the current duo. This is further clarified by their decision to not exercise the 5th-year option on Vander Esch's contract and potentially allowing him to enter free agency in 2022.
The very reason that Dallas is seemingly making over the linebacker positions are what Micah Parsons now faces; the burden of expectation. Smith and Vander Esch have had their moments but have ultimately not lived up to the promise of perceived potential.
Expectation is a powerful element in our evaluation of players. Being on the right side of it makes you a feelgood or success story; someone who's outperformed their draft pick or other beginnings. It's how guys like CB Anthony Brown get second contracts from their teams while a Chidobe Awuzie doesn't.
Brown, a former 6th-round pick, developed into a reliable backup and proved he belonged in the NFL. Awuzie, a 2nd-round pick, never lived up to the expectation of being a consistently capable starter and is now a Cincinnati Bengal after Dallas didn't re-sign him.
It's the same reason that previous 1st-round “busts” like DE Taco Charlton and CB Morris Claiborne didn't make it. We've carried worse defensive ends on the roster before than Charlton, and we've definitely had worse cornerbacks at times than Claiborne. But not living up to those draft-day expectations becomes the stale fart in the room; a negative element that coaches and executives don't like lingering around.
Micah Parsons isn't just up against the recent disappointments at linebacker with Jaylon and Leighton. Like with Taco in 2017, some were quick to declare the Parsons pick a mistake for Dallas and are ready to jump in with the “I told you so” as soon as he struggles.
At least for his sake there's wasn't a T.J. Watt on the board that everyone was clamoring for instead. That comparative analysis was especially damning for Charlton.
The Cowboys haven't really hit a homerun with a 1st-round pick on defense since DeMarcus Ware in 2005. Even the very good players like Byron Jones and Anthony Spencer either didn't get second contracts from the team (Jones) or just didn't quite measure up to those high expectations (Spencer).
Even if he isn't another Taco, Claiborne, Bobby Carpenter, and perhaps Vander Esch at this point, Micah Parsons will clearly have to be more than solid to satisfy the masses. That's the price for being a high draft pick, and especially one for the beleaguered Dallas Cowboys.