(Editor's Note: The offseason program is in full swing, and it's no longer too early to look ahead. As part of the preparation for training camp, this series will introduce 25 key players who are new to the Cowboys' roster, rookies and veterans alike. The series continues today with linebacker Devin Harper.)
How He Got Here: The Cowboys drafted Harper with their last of nine picks, No. 193 overall in the sixth round. Harper was in Oklahoma State's program for six years, including a redshirt season in 2016. With an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Harper emerged as an impact starter in 2021 as a "super senior," posting 96 tackles (10 for loss) along with six sacks.
"It was a great experience because I never really got to experience or reach my full potential, like maximize my ability the whole year because I've been hurt on and off," Harper said during draft weekend. "I finally had a year to do that, and I had to capitalize on it."
Harper did not receive an invite to the NFL combine but had a productive pro day, reportedly a posting a 40.5-inch vertical jump and a 40-yard dash time in the 4.4-second range.
What's Next: From a sheer numbers perspective, the linebacker room doesn't look as deep compared to last offseason. That's offset some by the style of defense the Cowboys play. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn used a lot of three-safety, "big nickel" package last season with Jayron Kearse in a hybrid safety/linebacker role, which often meant only two true linebackers were on the field at once. That said, there's probably room for Harper to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, especially if he can emerge as a core special teams player for coordinator John Fassel.
"I'm more athletic and faster than a lot of guys that play [special teams], so it just comes natural to me," Harper said. "Plus, it gives me the ability to make plays in space and make open field tackles."
Bet You Didn't Know: Special teams is nothing new to Harper. In his first five years at Oklahoma State, he only made three starts at linebacker (three of 43 games). He'll draw on that experience in the kicking game as he tries to crack the roster.
"I've played them all," he said. "I love kickoff, I love punt and I just like to make tackles. A lot of tackles and big plays."
Quotable: "He's got the speed that you look for in linebackers for today's game. It's a space game – run and hit. We love his special teams potential as well." – Will McClay, Cowboys vice of president player personnel