With their seventh pick in the 2016 draft and the 219th overall pick, the Broncos selected Will Parks, the hybrid safety/cornerback out of Arizona. Parks was a very under the radar prospect and wasn’t on many (if any) national rankings (including my own). I admit that despite following the Pac-12 closely and having prepared diligently for this draft, Parks was a prospect I hadn’t heard of or studied on film.
I scoured the web for film on Parks (thank God for youtube and draftbreakdown.com) and found two great examples of his strengths and weaknesses. The first was his best game of the season against UTSA, the other was against UCLA.
First off, Parks stands out as a versatile player with a very diverse skill set that allows him to be a factor in all facets of the game. He’s a more than willing hitter, looks to lay the wood on receivers over the middle and when coming downhill in run support, has had some big hits in his career. Better than safety ability in coverage, has man skills to stick with receivers, has been used in zone and done well also. Plays well when facing the action and has had his share of deflections, suggesting some decent awareness, eyes and ball skills (interceptions are lacking only two in the last two seasons). Parks is a weapon covering in the slot, area where he probably performed at his best and promises most projecting to the NFL. He is long and fits the prototype of longer versatile safeties who can be assets in the slot and trusted to help against the run.
Another great quality in Parks is that he doesn’t give up on the play, he’s the type of player who will run down a receiver even if he’s on the other side of the field and twenty yards back, he plays with undeniable heart and will. Considering all this and his versatile skills he should be an immediate contributor on special teams.
Parks excelled against UTSA in week one of the college football season, deflecting three passes, forcing a fumble and totaling eleven tackles. He truly flashed his full potential and ability as a playmaker all over the field.
That said, while versatile and able to help against the run and pass, I’m not sure Parks has a defined role or is truly elite in any one particular skill. He lacks the lateral range and recovery speed to play as a single-high centerfielder type safety, he’s often almost in position but just a step slow to make the play. He lacks the size to play as a strong safety in the box, not to mention the explosiveness to be an added run defender against bigger more athletic professionals and more complex offensive schemes. As a corner, he’d be limited to a slot role, but again there are definite doubts as to whether he can be a starting corner in nickel or on the outside in the NFL as his cover skills are far from perfect. He’s been praised for his awareness but I didn’t come away particularly impressed with his instincts. I felt he had some misreads against UCLA and wasn’t as sharp playing against better/faster competition and game speed.
Parks is probably limited to a hybrid safety nickel role in sub packages and will have to leave a mark on special teams. His athletic testing numbers were underwhelming for the positions NFL standards, he ran a 4.63 forty yard dash, and his jumps were below average, he did, however, show good agility in the three-cone (7.02), confirming his potential to cover in the slot. Because of all this, his upside is limited.
Parks was one of the better members of a bad secondary, with lots of misalignments and confused players, hard for a safety and nickel defender to play well in such contest and this has to be a big reason for some of his sub-par tape and missed reads. His production was better in 2014 (81 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 8 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions) when Arizona was much more stout defensively and a more competitive as a team in general.
The value of the pick isn’t great, especially with talented safeties like Jeremy Cash and Jalen Mills still on the board. This could be a David Bruton replacement who has similar traits, especially coming into the league: good length, lean frame, able to do lots of things but not great in anything and a bit slow. If Parks can play with the same heart and dedication he could have a chance to carve out a position like the recently departed special teams captain and slowly develop into a role as a sub-package player and backup safety. Parks is a high floor but limited ceiling type selection, who can be a useful depth piece. He follows the trend of the last few years where the Broncos take flyers on defensive backs late in the draft.