Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons took the lead for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award early in the season and ran away with the hardware.
Though the competition wasn't in doubt, Parsons was officially named the 2021 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year on Thursday night during NFL Honors. He was a unanimous choice, earning all 50 votes.
Parsons' difference-making talent was on display all the way back in the Hall of Fame Game in August when the rookie was already flying around the field making plays.
Parsons never slowed. The No. 12 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft racked up 84 tackles, 13 sacks -- two shy of the NFL rookie record -- three forced fumbles and three passes defensed in 16 regular-season games played.
With blazing speed, the linebacker could close on ball-carriers in a blink. Seemingly every week, an opposing quarterback was stunned that Parsons would get on him so quickly during a scramble. The demon possesses the size-speed combo to make life difficult on offensive linemen and track pass catchers in space.
Parsons became the only rookie with 80-plus tackles and 10-plus sacks in the last 25 seasons. Among rookies, he ranked first in sacks (13.0), first in QB hits (30), first in tackles for loss (20), tied for first in forced fumbles (three), and second in tackles (84). Among all players, Parsons ranked in the top six in sacks, QB hits and tackles for loss. His 30 QB hits were the most by a rookie since the stat began being tracked in 2008 -- next highest: Von Miller (29) and Aldon Smith (27), both in 2011.
The Cowboys asked Parsons to line up all over the field as a rookie. He started the year looking like the league's best off-the-ball linebacker, stuffing the run and covering in space. Then, as injuries mounted on the Dallas defensive front, the Cowboys asked Parsons to put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer. He did so with devastating effect for quarterbacks.
The versatility Parsons supplied helped turn a moribund Cowboys defense into one of the best in the NFL in 2021.
The scary part for opponents: Parsons still has room for improvement.
"I can get better everywhere," Parsons said this week. "I can become a better pass rusher. I can become a better linebacker. Like, anything. I just feel like I'm just out there raw and I was just learning and I grew and I kept getting better and better throughout the year. No one's ever perfect. There's always room to grow in many ways to get better."