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Draft analysis: Sixth round LB Devin Harper will need a friend in John Fassel

Finding a role with special teams will be key as the Dallas Cowboys made Oklahoma State off-the-ball linebacker Devin Harper their final NFL Draft selection.
Credit: AP
Oklahoma State linebacker Devin Harper (16) lines up against West Virginia during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)

DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys added to their linebacker depth with the selection of former Oklahoma State linebacker Devin Harper with the No. 193 overall pick in Round 6 of the 2022 NFL draft.

The notion of adding a young linebacker to the roster has been hashed out throughout the process. But to reiterate, more options could spell trouble for the long-term futures of Leighton Vander Esch and Luke Gifford in Dallas.

Selecting Harper in Round 6 after taking linebacker Damone Clark in Round 5 also means that the coaching staff potentially doesn't have to be anxious about Jabril Cox working his way back from the ACL tear that he suffered during his rookie season.

Harper nevertheless has a battle laid out before him. The redshirt senior generated 96 combined tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, 15 quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries in 14 games last season as a first team Academic All-Big 12 honoree.

Predominantly those impressive statistics came on the defensive side of the ball. However, if Harper wants to see playing time with the Cowboys, he will likely need to find a way to warm up to special teams coordinator John Fassel and become an integral part of special teams.

Fassel has proven throughout his career that he is a big advocate for his guys, and that he won’t get in the way of a star special teamer if they start to see more time on offense or defense.

"I'm always these players' biggest fan when it comes to their offensive and defensive loads," Fassel told reporters on Aug. 19, 2021. "If they get taken off special teams because of that, then that means they're valuable, and I'm happy, and the next guy better step up, so there are big shoes to fill."

Fassel has had examples even throughout his brief time in Dallas. Safety Donovan Wilson was mostly used on special teams through the first six weeks of the 2020 season when he then took on a heavier workload on the backend of the defense.

Running back Rico Dowdle filled Wilson's shoes throughout 2021 training camp, and even Cox started out on special teams before dipping into a bigger role with the defense until his injury put an end to his first season.

Said Fassel: "That's part of the really fun part about being in special teams is seeing guys get pulled to different spots and new guys able to replace him and then try to put it back together again. The chemistry is crucial, and it's something we harp on a lot."

If Harper can find a way to get Fassel on his side, he may graduate from special teams to defense rather quickly.

Of the nine-player class, which selection do you think was the best for the Cowboys? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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