The Giants haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first round since they took Carl Banks No. 3 overall in 1984. Wednesday is the 40th anniversary of Lawrence Taylor’s No. 2 overall selection.
Their two Super Bowls under Bill Parcells in 1986 and 1990 set the Giants’ standard for defense, toughness and success.
Picking Penn State LB Micah Parsons No. 11 overall on Thursday might just be the way for the Giants to recapture that identity and pedigree.
“Your teams are feared based on the level of talent that you have,” Banks, 58, the Giants’ legend and broadcaster, told the News Tuesday when asked if Parsons could help restore that intimidation factor for New York. “The Giants are playing at a pretty good clip defensively, and I think a player with [Parsons’] skill set would definitely elevate their play to the next level.
“You have the components to put together a dominant defense,” he added.
Parsons, 21, hasn’t played football since 2019. But the 6-foot-3, 246-pound linebacker’s production in two college seasons prior to his 2020 opt-out spoke loud and clear.
He led the Nittany Lions with 82 tackles as a freshman in 2018 even though he didn’t even start. Then he was a consensus All-American as a sophomore in 2019, with 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and five sacks.
Numerous scouts consider Parsons’ pass rush ability to be one of his best traits. So even though he’s an inside linebacker, he projects as a versatile weapon who can pressure the quarterback in defensive coordinator Pat Graham’s 3-4 scheme.
Dave Gettleman has largely ignored the pass rush in his first three Giants drafts. Picking Parsons might help rectify that.
“He’s a monster against the run,” one person familiar with the Penn State program said. “He has the speed to rush the quarterback or cover a tight end. And he’s coachable.”
If the Giants go defense with Thursday’s No. 11 pick, then, what is there to even think about?
Well, there are the draft’s top two corners: South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn and Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, who are also considered legitimate options for the Giants in the first.
And there is Parsons’ immaturity, which every NFL team will have to judge itself as either overblown or cause for concern.
Parsons, who grew up in Harrisburg, Pa., was named in a 2020 lawsuit filed by former Penn State safety Isaiah Humphries against the university connected to alleged player hazing and enabling by James Franklin and the coaching staff.
Parsons isn’t a defendant in the ongoing suit, but Humphries claimed Parsons once punched him in the face, grabbed him by the neck and choked him, prompting Humphries to pull a knife to defend himself.
In high school, at Central Dauphin, Parsons was suspended after the school claimed he had attempted to incite a riot by yelling “gun” in the cafeteria.
Parsons’ father told PennLive.com that his son had been calling out to a teammate, and soundless security footage reportedly showed little reaction from students and police in the cafeteria. Parsons nevertheless was suspended and transferred to Harrisburg High, where he starred as a defensive end and running back.
On the college recruiting trail, Urban Meyer also reportedly cut Parsons’ visit to Ohio State short because Parsons had tweeted in favor of benching Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett.
The fact that Parsons didn’t play football in 2020, plus the possible red flags off the field, all probably explain why Giants head coach Joe Judge went to Penn State’s pro day in person this March — to assess the talent and risk for himself.
Former Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington has vouched for Parsons’ character before and taken him under his wing. And Parsons, who has a two-year old son, has plenty of people convinced he’ll make it in the show.
“He’s serious about making it as a pro,” one source said.
“Obviously, people had some concerns about things that had happened,” Parsons said at the Penn State pro day. “But at the end of the day, I was a kid. I was 17-18. We all made mistakes when we were 17-18. I’m not going to let it control or dictate the person I am now. I’m not going to let something that happened four years ago dictate who I’m becoming and the father I want to be.”
Parsons might be drafted before the Giants pick, too, however, or Dave Gettleman could opt for one of the top two corners instead. Surtain ran a 4.41 40-yard dash. Horn ran a 4.4 flat.
The 6-foot-2, 208-pound Surtain, son of former Pro Bowler Patrick Surtain, was a first-team All-American and SEC defensive player of the year in 2020 with 12 pass breakups, 38 tackles and an interception. He is considered the more polished prospect.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Horn is the son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn, who famously celebrated a 2003 touchdown catch against the Giants by pulling a cell phone from the goal post’s padding and pretending to make a phone call.
Horn opted out after seven games in 2020 when South Carolina fired coach Will Muschamp, but he had two interceptions, six breakups and 16 tackles as second-team all-conference. And NFL evaluators widely believe that while Horn is raw, he has higher upside than Surtain.
Going corner is a legitimate option for the Giants even after their free agent signing of Adoree Jackson, just as picking one of the Alabama receivers is still possible after the free agent signing of Kenny Golladay.
Or the Giants could go linebacker with Parsons for the first time since Banks in 1983 — a stat that Banks thinks isn’t all it seems.
“I don’t know what the big deal is,” he said. “It’s just kind of a footnote. Systems basically determine that. I don’t think there were any Brian Urlachers available to them [playing the 4-3]. But they’re in a 3-4 now and that’s more linebacker-centric.
“And I think they did pretty well with Jessie Armstead,” Banks said of the 1993 eighth-rounder.
Parsons could be next.