Devron Harper: Path To The NFL Draft

By Simon Carroll

The late, great Al Davis once said “you can’t teach speed”. And whilst it oversimplifies things a little, it’s true – NFL teams today still value those who can run faster more than everyone else.

Devron Harper isn’t just quick – he’s also deadly with the ball in his hands. The Mercer wide receiver and return specialist sat down with Simon Carroll to discuss his path to the NFL Draft:

Haircuts & Heritage

Atlanta, Georgia, is one of America’s football hotbeds; talent-rich when it comes to high school football, less than an hour away from multiple powerhouse college football programs, and of course home to the Falcons of the NFL. Devron Harper was born and raised not far from ‘A-Town’, and after showing strong convictions from an early age, tread a familiar family path:

“We grew up in a little small town. I lived in Covington at first, before moving to McDonough, but pretty much in that Newton County area. All my family have graduated from Heritage, so it’s something of a family tradition to go to that high school. I was actually supposed to go to a private school, but they wanted me to cut my hair and little things like that. I’m a big believer in people being judged on their character, so I balked at that; my hair is a part of me, made me feel like myself – and asking me to change that wasn’t respectful. So I took myself off to Heritage instead.”

For Harper, even before he went to high school anything that involved sports was on the table – but one always mattered more than the rest:

“Football, it was something I had played since I was six years old. When I was younger I also did baseball and basketball, and they were definitely passions too. I actually wanted to continue with basketball but football started leading to my heart. In fact, football was the first sport to make me cry; that feeling when you lose a game, and it hurts really bad – I never felt that from any other sport. We could lose a championship game in basketball and it wouldn’t affect me in the slightest. That told me a lot – football was the one for me.”

It soon became apparent to his Heritage coaches that Harper was a talented athlete. Blessed with natural speed, Devron turned his hand to anything and everything for the Generals – and success followed him no matter what sport he was playing:

“Man I did everything at Heritage! Basketball, track and football were the main three, and when the track season ended after the championship meet I did a little bit of pinch running on the baseball team for Coach Ramsey. I’m not sure they needed me, but I still went to the final four and got a championship ring with that team! But after a very good freshman year in football – they had moved me up to Junior Varsity in that 9th grade year – it kind of started to take over. 10th grade I continued to do a little track, but after scoring 5 touchdowns in one game they told me I had to move up to Varsity. That reaffirmed my commitment to football – you could see the hard work pay off.”

Multi-Sport Athlete

Devron Harper gently began winding down some of his activities at Heritage. Football came so naturally to him, it was the obvious route to a college education. That said, the academic sporting calendar allowed him to maintain his interest in track – something that could certainly have taken him to the next level too:

“Going into my junior year, that Varsity team, it felt like I had seen all these guys before. It felt like I belonged immediately. I remember my first touchdown like it was yesterday, a punt return against Salem. After that moment, I knew what I was sticking to. I had some options via track – I won State twice in my time at Heritage – but I knew it was football from here on out. I balled out as a junior, we went to the playoffs, and whilst the team struggled with some coaching changes in my senior year I still did well. I played on both sides of the ball, had eight interceptions and eight touchdowns that season.  Early on, I LOVED special teams – and I still do! But knowing that you could do both – be a dynamic returner and a dominant receiver – it was like a lightbulb moment for me. I knew football was gonna let me go far.”

Being involved in so many pastimes, I jokingly asked Harper if he had any time left to do some actual studying. Interestingly, he learned the importance of time management from an early age:

“Oh don’t get me wrong – I definitely studied! My favorite teacher was Miss Benton. She kept me grounded, kept me going, because I knew I had a heavy schedule. I had to practice around 4pm, so instead of going home when we’d finished at 1pm, I’d just go to her classroom and knock all the homework out I had before football. It was challenging at first, but once somebody showed me how to break down my schedule, I had a plan to manage it all. I didn’t know how big time was until then. We all know you’re not going to want to do homework after practice. So my teacher letting me do that – it was appreciated.”

High jump is a rather unusual pursuit for football players; those who do track alongside football usually stick to sprinting and long jumping. Harper suggests that his skills as a receiver have definitely been enhanced by his time setting records with a ‘Fosbury Flop’:

“There’s definitely some crossover. Technique-wise, using your body in a certain way, it without doubt could help. There’s that motion where you’re arching your back to get over the bar, and if a quarterback overthrows you, you can reach out Odell Beckham style and snag that ball. And then bracing your body for impact with the ground after – that comes naturally to me after years of landing on the mat as a high jumper. I wasn’t aware I was using some of the same techniques until I watched myself back on tape. It really helped me as a receiver.”

Becoming A Bulldog

As a dangerous receiver and returner, Devron Harper had made a name for himself at the high school level. If he had been in a different county or region, it is assumed that he would have had a lot more interest from the college ranks. Whilst attention was scarce, Harper was more focused on those who were going to give him a chance rather than those who weren’t:

“My high school wasn’t particularly big. But we made things work, made our effort count. We started getting more looks coming in as I got to be a junior, senior – but we haven’t traditionally had many guys come out of Heritage and go to the big schools. Not many scouts would come out to watch us. So with that, I knew the score – it’s more about connections for people like me. And I was just waiting for the first team to give me an opportunity. Gardner-Webb gave me that opportunity in my junior year – offered me pretty early and stayed consistent with me all the way through my senior season.”

It’s easy to assume that the unfair world of recruiting would upset a high school star with the talent to succeed at any level. For Harper, this wasn’t the case. A man of conviction, he trusted his own instincts to work with those that really wanted him rather than chase a half-interest from somewhere else:

“I don’t think I got another offer until the end of my senior year. I had some other FCS teams around the Atlanta area interested, but for me it was about that consistency. It showed faith and loyalty. Gardner-Webb gave me that – and they stayed honest with me throughout the whole process. I built good relationships with those guys. To be honest, it might not seem so from the outside, but I consider my recruiting a good experience. It kept me grounded, showed me through life that things aren’t always straightforward. I needed to play at a certain level, and I was always prepared, but any time we went up against an FBS team, I showed up. I never got starstruck. And Gardner-Webb gave me that platform.”

Devastating Returner

Devron Harper repaid the faith shown by Gardner-Webb immediately. As a true freshman, he recorded 650 yards and four touchdowns – and added extra value to the Bulldogs on special teams. Harper was grateful for his coaches scheming up ways for him to get the ball:

“As a freshman, I obviously had a lot to learn. But I was quick – real quick – and that made me something of a weapon that could be used in a lot of ways from the start. Returner, receiver, running back, trick plays, gunner on the punt unit – I did a lot of things. As a receiver, I was primarily a slot guy – but they knew I could affect the game wherever they needed me to play.”

Throughout the conversation, Harper talks with passion about his time on special teams. With his speed, he’s an obvious candidate to be a returner at the next level – something that could give him an advantage when it comes to the draft process:

“It’s definitely an asset I have that others might not. Any team, any roster needs that; having guys that can do multiple roles. And having a dude that can be dominant in the return game, it puts a pressure on other teams that really affects games. They might not want to punt it in certain situations, or kick it to me because they worry what I’ll do to them with that ball in my hands. Every single detail was a big focus to me – returner or receiver. It’s something I take pride in. As a returner, they’re choosing me to do that job. I want people to believe in me – it makes me put pressure on myself to do it well. I don’t have any sob story or battle against adversity – what it boiled down to was someone saw something in me, gave me an opportunity,  and I didn’t want to let them down. So any chance I got to do extra on something I did it – and it really showed up as a returner.”

A dangerous returner at both Gardner-Webb and later Mercer too, Harper attributes his unique ability to a certain mindset. With four kick/punt returns taken all the way back for a touchdown in his college career, I ask him if he thinks he’s going to score every time he lines up to receive on special teams:

“Every single time. Being a returner, you got to have a certain mindset. And I’ll be completely honest, there was never a time where I thought ‘let me just get 10, 15 yards. If that happens, then fine. But my whole goal is to get to the endzone. I’m not really a touchback guy either – but I’ve learned to take the good yards if it’s better for the team! But yeah – any time that ball lands in my hands, I’m looking to put up six.”

Moving On To Mercer

After two seasons in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, Devron Harper made a decision to hit the transfer portal and take his talents to a different destination. That new home would be Mercer University in Macon, Georgia – just an hour away from his family home in McDonough. Harper explains his decision, and location really didn’t have a whole lot to do with it:

“Yeah, it was close to home, but I even told my mother that I would have gone further away if it was a better fit from another team that wanted me! But honestly, at Gardner-Webb I had built relationships. I had Coach Houston, Coach Grimes, all these guys that I had real love for. And they left. Now the new coaching staff that came in, Coach Lamb, they were all good coaches, gave me a chance. It was just a different dynamic, and I missed the connection I had previously. So I talked to my brother, and we were both on the same page. We put our faith in God. And I felt like I had made a grown man decision for myself – put myself out there. I could make a big mistake, or I could change my life. And I’d rather it be me making that decision than following somebody else. It was on me, I went through it, and I’m here today.”

When Devron speaks of his ‘brother’, he is referring to Ty James, a fellow wide receiver with Mercer. James hails from a similar background to Harper, growing up and playing football in a county south of Atlanta. The two have a special bond, consulting each other on big decisions – and the latest one from Harper to join the Bears paid immediate dividends. Starting 10 games, Devron recorded 872 yards, exploding in big games and becoming the diverse vertical weapon he always knew he was. Harper loved his time at Gardner-Webb, but when it came to offense he was used strictly as a slot receiver. At Mercer, they lined him up in a variety of spots:

“My first year felt like it vindicated my decision to transfer. Mercer, I got a lot more exposure, was moved around a lot more as a receiver. We had a huge game against Samford, and in that game – I knew what we could become. Me and Ty, we had something like 1,500 yards receiving between the two of us. It felt like we were building towards something special.”

Turning It On In Tuscaloosa

Devron Harper’s sophomore season was also special for another reason: on September 11th 2021, Harper scored a touchdown against Alabama – the first player in the history of his school to achieve such a feat. Fittingly, Ty James scored one himself later in the game, but it was an occasion that Harper will never forget:

“That touchdown was a turning moment in my life. There was so much joy behind that – no matter whether you’re winning or losing, people dream of scoring on the biggest stage, against the biggest teams. At the time, Alabama had the best team in the country. To be able to walk into the endzone, in that setting, was special. Even more so when you’re at an FCS school, and you’re constantly told you’re not going to score against them. And then you do it. It was a blessing – and I take that moment with honor.”

Harper took that momentum from 2021 and turned it into one of the best seasons that his school had ever seen. As a junior, Devron recorded almost 1,900 all-purpose yards, led his conference in 16 total touchdowns, and set multiple Mercer records. On top of all that, he was a unanimous 1st Team All-SoCon selection by the coaches and media, and named a finalist for the Walter Payton award – given to the best FCS player in the nation. Looking back, Devron says it was the moment he knew there was a chance he could seriously pursue a career in football:

“That junior year was a blur. Things were happening so quick, and I knew it was an electric season for me. There was one game, against either Wofford or Gardner-Webb, I just had this feeling. I knew I would keep going. I was hungry for more, and knew I had so much left to give. It was an exciting realization! At times that season, I felt like I played outside my body. It was something I wasn’t accustomed to. They switched it up that year, to get both me and Ty on the field at the same time. They sprinkled in a few new plays, moved us around, and it was the perfect recipe. Everything was just clicking.”

At this point, Harper had a decision to make. Should he declare early for the draft? Once again, he sat down with his brother and figured out the next step:

“I definitely had thoughts on it. Me and my brother Ty talked, and we got our little situations across about what we wanted to do, and we both decided to come back. We talked it out, and came to the same conclusion; we both felt we had unfinished business at Mercer to take care of. We wanted to get to the playoffs – and we did just that.”

Harper can rightly look back on his college football career with pride. But when I ask him what he’s most proud of during his time at both Gardner-Webb and Mercer, he has a different philosophy than you might expect:

“December 7th, 2023 – being able to tell my mom that I had graduated. That’s the best moment for me, sports or otherwise. That right there? It came full circle. Before that, my best moment was being able to tell her I was going to college on a full ride. And to finish the job and get that communications degree, I felt I had made her so proud. Football will come and go – and I love playing it, had moments in games I will never forget – but that education was the whole reason I played the game. I left home, went places, grew up, and graduated.”

Pro Day Preparation

Pride in getting a college education is admirable. But using that communications degree, for now, can wait; instead, Devron Harper has turned his full attention to pursuing a career as a professional football player. In order to play on Sundays, he’s already working on his craft as he tries to attract attention from NFL scouts:

“I’m down in Nashville right now, training at a facility called X3. Now I’m quick, but I’m still working on my forty. But also my balance; being able to take a hit and absorb it, stay on my feet. And the little things that the guys down here do a great job with – making me stay in my stance longer and not move around too much. But it is different – weights on my hand, balancing on one leg, jumping and landing on the same leg; stuff you don’t have time to focus on in season. Aside from that – getting in and out of routes quick, and being smooth on the grass. Smooth is fast.”

Harper’s speed has never been in question – but that doesn’t mean he’s taking his athleticism for granted. As he explains, you can get better in every regard – even if you thought you were already good at it:

“I’m learning my body better. Using my speed at the right moments, rather than just running like a freak! Controlling myself better, making quicker cuts – it’s amazing when you break down every aspect of your motion to the smallest levels what you can tweak, improve. I can feel myself getting better every day – way better – so things are working out good.”

Harper’s college career got noticed by the Tropical Bowl, who invited them to their end of season all-star game. With NFL teams in attendance, Harper put on a show – his agent assures me he was ‘cooking guys’ every day in practice. Devron remains a little more humble, but there’s no doubting he did well in Orlando – and it showed him just how diligent the scouts were when it came to practice:

“I had a great time. It was a great experience being around all those guys from different schools. And you realize quick that it means something just to be here – there’s nobody out here that’s not good. They asked me to come, so I just focused on being myself. I spoke to a couple of teams out there, and I learned from talking to them that those guys really watch practice man! It’s not just about the game, but your work ethic, how you do on the days you think nobody is watching. And in those moments, I did well – it got me a lot of exposure, and meant I had more people to talk to.”

Strengths & Weaknesses

As impressive a career and early draft process as Devron Harper has enjoyed, he’s also aware there’s still a lot to prove. His commitment to his craft helps him in this regard, and when his pro day arrives he’s ready to confirm what people think he’s good at, and surprise some in areas that may be considered a weakness of his game:

“I’m all about speed, and the draft community is aware of it. My acceleration is something I’m known for, shows up as a receiver and on special teams. And it’s a good strength to have – you can’t teach speed, and it gets people interested and hopefully opens up some doors. What I would say about how people view my draft stock – physicality at the catch point is a question they will have. Now I’m confident my tape will back me up, but I also understand there’s a difference between physicality at the college level and physicality at the NFL level. That might be a part of it right now, and it isn’t totally accurate but I know I can continue to work on it. In fact, I like being told what I need to work on by others – it gives me that motivation to stay behind, go overtime on those things. I’m all about making a weakness a strength and turning it to my advantage. I’m coachable like that too – like I said, I’m a details guy.”

Speaking of details, I ask Harper how he thinks his particular skillset suits the NFL – and in particular what kind of scheme he would thrive in. Like all draft prospects, Harper is going to fall in love with whichever team gives him that chance, but he did indulge me with some offenses that might be a perfect fit:

“I like how Miami play! Speed everywhere. But I do like those quarterbacks who allow the quick guys to do their thing. Patrick Mahomes, he still puts the ball in front of his guys, knows who can do what – but they also like to get everyone involved too. I appreciate that! It’s a very active offense – and they scheme up stuff for the dynamic guys too, which would suit me. I appreciate not every offense has a Mahomes pulling the strings, but any place they can find ways to get me the ball in space would be perfect.”

When Devron Harper speaks, he talks with passion. He’s a remarkably grounded individual for someone who has so much talent; maybe a career flying under the radar has helped him in that regard. Thoughtful and considerate, he makes decisions with clarity and conviction, and backs himself to make those choices pay off. His love for football is absolute, and it isn’t lost on him what that final weekend in April represents:

“I believe my family is headed to the Caverns, which would be nice. Finally have a little outing with them; I’ve been gone a while now, so it would be one last week we could just enjoy each other before everything hits the fan. It’s gonna get crazy! But it’s also every kid’s dream too, and I’m no different. Since I was six years old I wanted to play in the NFL. And that’s the passion that most of us going through this process has, so if they say they’re calm and relaxed you know they’re lying! Not many people get as close to their dream as we are right now. Hearing my name called, I would be overjoyed. To get that reward after working at something for 17 years. To say you’ve made it – it would be a huge moment.”

Mock Draft





A huge thank you to Devron for taking the time to talk to us. Everyone at The Touchdown wishes him well in his future career.