Penn State head football coach James Franklin announced Wednesday that All-American linebacker Micah Parsons will not be returning to the program, after opting out of the 2020 season back on August 4th.
“He had been gone for so long that it made it a little bit more complicated to work through,” Franklin told reporters during Penn State’s virtual media day.
Parsons, a consensus All-America and All-Big Ten selection in 2019, decided to forego his final two years of eligibility and begin preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft when the Big Ten Conference initially canceled the 2020 season due to COVID-19. He ends his collegiate career with 191 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery in two seasons as the Nittany Lions’ starting middle linebacker. He was named the MVP of last December’s Cotton Bowl victory over Memphis in his final game in a Penn State uniform.
Originally a five-star recruit out of Harrisburg as a defensive end, Parsons made the switch to inside linebacker upon arriving on campus in Happy Valley. Parsons is projected to be as high as a top-five pick in next April’s 2021 NFL Draft.
Parsons’ departure certainly leaves the Nittany Lions without one of the nation’s premier defenders, but creates an opportunity for several other rising players at “Linebacker U.”
With Parsons a centerpiece of the defense, many believed Franklin had a roster capable of competing for the program’s first berth in the College Football Playoff. While that still might be the case, in terms of talent and depth from top to bottom on the roster, replacing Parsons will be no easy task.
Here’s a look at the three players most likely to replace Parsons at middle linebacker for the Nittany Lions, when they open the season next month against Indiana:
Brooks, 6-foot-1 and 241 pounds, currently sits atop Penn State’s middle linebacker depth chart. A former four-star recruit, and 247Sports’ No. 29 ranked inside linebacker in the country, Ellis appeared in 13 games as a redshirt freshman last season. He produced 39 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, four tackles for loss and recovered a fumble. Elevating to a starting role seems like the natural next step in Brooks’ development.
Similar to Parsons, Dixon was one of the nation’s most sought after linebacker prospects, prior to signing as a member of the Nittany Lions’ 2019 recruting class. Dixon was a five-star prospect, according to 247Sports, and the No. 1 outside linebacker in the class. As a true freshman last season, Dixon appeared in just three games. However, Dixon’s freakish athleticism could put him in position to take on a significantly greater role in 2020.
Luketa was a standout in the Nittany Lions’ linebacking corps, as a sophomore last season, in large part because of his 4.68 speed and athleticism. He produced 24 tackles as a sophomore. There is a chance that Luketa winds up starting at outside linebacker or even defensive end this season, but. could figure in the middle linebacker rotation as well alongside Brandon Smith to help soften the blow of losing Parsons.