The Jets recently claimed safety Will Parks off waivers from the Miami Dolphins. Today we break down Parks in detail.
The 27-year old Parks is listed at 6’0” and 200 pounds and was a sixth round pick out of Arizona in 2016. Parks has started 15 games in his NFL career and has racked up 180 tackles, four interceptions and two sacks.
Parks was a three-star high school recruit and headed to Arizona, where he recorded nine tackles in a backup defensive back and special teams role as a true freshman.
He made four starts in his sophomore year, recording 31 tackles and the first two interceptions of his career, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
Over his last two seasons, Parks was in a full-time role and he started all 27 games. In 2014, he registered 81 tackles and career-highs in passes defensed (eight) and tackles for loss (13) as he also intercepted two passes again and recorded his first career sack.
His senior year saw Parks named as an honorable mention all-PAC 12 selection and although he didn’t have any interceptions or sacks, he was productive again with 76 tackles and two forced fumbles.
The Broncos drafted Parks in the sixth round and he had 22 tackles and an interception in a rotational role as a rookie. He started five games in his second season and had a career-high 51 tackles. He then started three more games in 2018 and a career-high seven in 2019.
Parks signed with the Eagles in 2020, but was released with a month remaining in the season and ended up back in Denver. In all, he started three of 10 games as he ended the season with 31 tackles, including a career-high three tackles for loss.
In 2021, he spent time with the Chiefs, 49ers and Dolphins but only played one game in which he was just used on special teams. The Jets claimed him earlier this month and he started and played well in the win over Jacksonville.
Now let’s take a look at what Parks brings to the table, divided into categories.
Parks only possesses average size for the safety position and has extremely short arms, although he does have big hands.
His combine numbers were pretty much average to below average across the board, apart from for the bench press where he posted 21 reps. He ran a 4.63 in the 40-yard dash.
Parks has good versatility, having played deep, in the box, up at the line and matched up in the slot. He was the backup strong safety as a rookie, but the backup free safety in year two. In 2019 and 2020, injuries near the end of the season forced him into a full time role as a slot corner and he held his own there.
At Arizona, Parks started at both the Bandit and Spur positions. These are basically two different hybrid safety roles within their three-safety base defense. In high school, Parks also played running back, cornerback and wide receiver.
When he entered the league, Parks’ strength was believed to be in zone coverages and he was expected to have to work on improving in man coverage. However, he’s since developed into someone who can play either role.
When ranging deep, he seems to have decent range, locates the ball well and has good timing, but he also seems to cope well when employed in man coverages.
He looks pretty good backpedaling, transitioning or flipping his hips, having admitted that he worked hard at improving his footwork during his rookie year.
Despite how competent he has looked, Parks has still given up a 70 percent catch rate and nine touchdowns in coverage at the NFL level. He still seems more comfortable when he can read the quarterback’s eyes than when he has to turn and run with a receiver.
However, he does have an ability to stay tight with his man and disrupt his route or leverage him over to the sideline to make it difficult for him to make a play on the ball.
In his career, Parks has had two defensive pass interference penalties and one for defensive holding and seems to do a good job of being clean at the catch point.
A lack of ball skills was a minor concern for Parks after he failed to post an interception in his final season at Arizona. However, he posted one in each of his first four seasons at the NFL level and has broken up 20 passes in college and 13 at the NFL level with some good timing.
Of his four interceptions, two came in zone coverage as he made a good read to drop in front of the intended receiver.
As noted, Parks has big hands and played wide receiver in high school so obviously he should be able to make a play on the ball.
When he can locate the ball early in coverage, he doesn’t panic and stays on his man to slow up their route as much as possible.
Parks is usually a secure tackler, but he does also have a tendency to miss several tackles every season.
He has a reputation as a big hitter but often those missed tackles are a product of some of the angles he takes in pursuit, which can be good plays as he will force runners back inside although he might overpursue when doing so.
Parks has forced two fumbles in his career, including this amazing play where he turned a touchdown into a turnover by forcing the fumble and the touchback.
He does a solid job of going low on bigger players to cut them to the ground but this technique can make you susceptible to the ball carrier staying on their feet by avoiding clean contact.
As noted, Parks has earned himself a reputation as a big hitter. This particular hit went viral when he was in college.
The hit itself was completely clean and the officials initially threw a flag but then picked it up. He has had one unnecessary roughness penalty at the NFL level, though.
Parks has good strength to disrupt routes down the field and will also be employed in press coverage and try to jam his man at the line sometimes. He also isn’t afraid to take on blockers.
Parks has some impressive film against the run and is experienced at lining up in the box. What stands out about his film is his gap discipline. He fills gaps aggressively, doesn’t fill the wrong gap very often and takes good angles to ensure his teammates can rally to the ball. These have been areas where the 2021 Jets secondary has had issues.
Here’s a terrific play against the run where he diagnoses quickly and gets out in front of the pulling blocker to blow up an outside run.
However, he’ll also crash into a gap and take on a blocker in the hole in a manner that is unusual for a player with his lack of size.
Parks only had one sack in college but he’s been a pretty effective blitzer at the NFL level with two sacks and six quarterback hits officially. His timing is pretty good and he has burst off the edge.
Parks has made decent contributions as a special teamer over the course of his career and has been productive covering kicks with good tackle numbers and this forced fumble.
However, his biggest special teams play came when he picked up a blocked extra point and ran it back for the winning score against the Saints.
While Parks gives a good effort while blocking on the return units, he has had three penalties for illegal blocks. He hasn’t returned kicks at the NFL or college level but was a kick returner in high school.
Parks’ instincts are viewed as a major strength and he displays good route recognition and an ability to read and react in zone coverage.
Here’s an excellent immediate read and pursuit out to the flat. Any hesitation there would have enabled the back to turn the corner for a much bigger gain.
On this play, Parks sniffs out the wide receiver screen and blows it up before either of the blockers can get set up.
Parks hasn’t been involved in many blown assignments although he can sometimes run himself out of a play by making an incorrect pre-snap read and trying to get the jump on a play so he could be susceptible to tendency breakers. There are also a few plays on film where he seemed to switch off and lose focus before the play was over.
Parks is a likable character and popular teammate, who takes pride in his work ethic and is driven to improve. He is described as humble, but seems to have fun on the field and in practice and worked hard on his conditioning and strength while in college to get NFL-ready.
His on-field discipline has been solid, as he is in his sixth season but only has seven penalties, including none on defense since 2018.
Off the field he was arrested in 2017 after what was reportedly a non-violent domestic incident but all charges were dropped in 2018. Parks admits that he had a rough life when he was younger, which is part of the reason he’s been so driven to succeed in the pros.
Parks played in 53 games in college and all 48 games in his first three NFL seasons. However, he then missed two games in 2019 after having hand/thumb surgery and six in 2020 after spending time on injured reserve following a preseason hamstring issue. He also had a knee injury in preseason in 2018 but didn’t miss any games with that.
Parks is obviously versatile and his experience in multiple roles should help him fit into basically any system.
In Denver, he played for Vic Fangio, whose system is different from Robert Saleh’s although there are some similarities in terms of coverage. Philadelphia’s system also shares some similarities with Saleh’s scheme because they both use wide nine fronts.
During his career, Parks has been a teammate of current Jets Vinny Curry, Connor McGovern, Tim Ward, Joe Flacco and Elijah Riley.
Parks has already been forced into action with the Jets because they were dealing with serious depth issues at safety with their top three players either injured or on Covid-19 reserve (not to mention the two starters that were already lost for the year due to injury).
Some of those players are coming back, so he might not get any more chances this year, despite playing well. However, even if he doesn’t, he brings experience, versatility and good character to a secondary that clearly needs better depth and they should consider bringing him back in 2022.
It’s interesting that he was unable to earn himself a role with the Chiefs, 49ers or Dolphins, but Parks displays some impressive traits on film so this opportunity with the Jets could be just what he needs to get his career back on track.