Heading into the 2019 season, Oklahoma State returns its two starting corners from a year ago in A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams. These two veteran players have a chance to be one of the best cornerback duos in the Big 12 next season. However, behind them, the Cowboys don’t have much depth and experience at corner. Texas A&M transfer Kemah Siverand and redshirt senior Bryce Balous saw some action in 2018, but outside of those two, no other cornerbacks on the roster have logged much college level playing time. And former corner Tanner McCalister, who rotated in some last season, has now converted to safety.
The Cowboys do have one freshman who might be able to add some depth at this position for 2019. Former three-star recruit Thomas Harper has the talent to possibly get some playing time as early as next season on this Cowboy defense. He’s next up in the Role Play series.
Player: Thomas Harper
Cornerback Room: A.J. Green, Bryce Brown, Bryce Balous, Gabe Lemons, JayVeon Cardwell, Kemah Sievrand, Kris McCune, Lamarcus Morton, Rodarius Williams, Thomas Harper
The younger brother of current Oklahoma State linebacker Devin Harper, Thomas did it all this past season for Karns High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. On offense, he had 1,279 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns, and ran the ball 10 times for 43 yards.
On the other side of the ball, he recorded 92 total tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, 7 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles (one of which is shown below), an interception and a blocked field goal.
Harper is incredibly athletic and, according to 247Sports, recorded a 4.50 40-yard dash and had a 40.1-inch vertical jump in high school. He also played on the Karns High School basketball team.
Along with his highlights, I was able to watch some game film of Karn’s matchup with Scott High School from last season. In this contest, the Tennessee product had eight receptions for 155 yards and three touchdowns, along with eight tackles and a forced fumble on defense.
Harper primarily lined up at free safety in the film I saw, and the main thing I noticed is that he plays extremely aggressive and is not afraid to come up and lay a big hit.
He does a great job of breaking on the ball once it’s in the air and has the speed to turn and run with receivers. In the game I watched, there weren’t a lot of situations where he was lined up in man coverage on a receiver, but he has great overall instincts, moves his hips well, has good lateral movement and elite speed, which I believe give him a very high ceiling at the college level.
I think he has a shot to crack the cornerback rotation next season and eventually become a starter on Jim Knowles’ defense.
As I mentioned above, Harper primarily played the free safety position for the Karns Beavers and played up aggressively against the run at times. At cornerback for Knowles, he will be asked to play tight, man coverage on the outside and won’t have the same run responsibilities he did in high school. There will be a transition period for the young defensive back, and there’s a chance he has some growing pains early on. And at 165 pounds, he still needs to put up some muscle to be able to compete with the big, physical receivers in the Big 12.
I think Harper’s floor is ending up as a career special teams player for the Cowboys, who is never able to solidify a spot in the rotation of the OSU defensive backfield. However, I think Harper has too much skill and talent to end anywhere near that floor.
As Marshall Scott pointed out, Harper is making an impression as an early enrollee at Spring practice.
“I don’t see that he’s really scared of anybody out here, and his physical ability makes it seem like he’s gonna have a chance to maybe compete earlier than other people,” Mike Gundy said. “It’s still way too early. We’ll know a lot more in a month.”
I truly believe he has a chance to see the field next season, not only on special teams, but in the defensive backfield. Who knows, there might even be a point in his career where we see him returning kicks and punts, making plays on defensive and catching passes on offense.