(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 rookie linebacker Aaron Hansford.)
How He Got Here: Like sixth-round draft pick Devin Harper (Oklahoma State), Hansford shined as a "super senior" for Texas A&M after receiving an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hansford started 11 games for the Aggies in 2021, posting a team-high 89 tackles and finishing third on defense with 8.5 for loss. If this year's draft wasn't so deep with prospects, Hansford might not have ended up as a rookie free agent. But the Cowboys were happy to sign him to an undrafted deal last month.
What's Next: The linebacker group got a boost when Leighton Vander Esch returned on a one-year deal, and Micah Parsons is as talented as any player in the league, but overall the position doesn't look as deep as it did this time last year. Jaylon Smith was released in the middle of last season. Keanu Neal, who played about 50% of the snaps, was not re-signed. Neither was second-year linebacker Francis Bernard. 2021 fourth-round draft pick Jabril Cox has a chance to replace Neal in his return from ACL surgery, but a young player such as Hansford should have a chance to earn a backup spot/special teams role. The Cowboys have had success finding undrafted linebackers in recent years (Luke Gifford in 2019, Bernard in 2020).
Bet You Didn't Know: Hansford (6-3, 240) actually didn't start playing linebacker full time until 2019, his junior year at Texas A&M. He began his college career at tight end, catching three passes as a freshman before missing his sophomore year because of a knee injury. With a strong senior year and reported 4.6-second 40 time at his Pro Day, Hansford showed he's got the speed and range that Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn likes at the linebacker position.
Quotable: "Overall, Hansford needs to hone his play recognition and finishing skills, but he is a rangy run-and-hit athlete who showed steady development on defense. He projects as a backup outside linebacker with starting upside and the traits for special teams." — The Athletic Draft Analyst, Dane Brugler, 2022 scouting report.