Cooper DeJean 2024 Draft Profile
Measurables (via University of Iowa Athletics)
Weight: 207 lbs.
Cooper DeJean is arguably one of the most fun draft evaluations I’ve done in some time. Not only from a pure film standpoint, but the farther you dig into his vast athletic career, the more you can correlate his accolades in high school to the versatile defensive back that he is today for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
That’s largely in part what makes all draft evaluations so fun: following the journey of these young men and how it all translates to being given the opportunity of a lifetime come draft night – something they’ve worked their entire life for.
The road for DeJean started as a 4-star safety recruit and a top 150 prospect out of Ida Grove, Iowa – where he played quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back. He holds the school career record at OABCIG (Odebolt Arthur Battle Creek Ida Grove Community School) in passing yards, passing touchdowns and touchdown receptions…yet he was one of the better safety prospects coming out.
Not only that, in basketball he scored 1,832 career points – which is 55 more than current Sacramento Kings Harrison Barnes on the state’s all-time scoring list.
In track he won the state championship in both the long jump and 100 meters.
He also played three seasons of varsity baseball.
And despite all of that, he didn’t receive many collegiate offers for football – despite being highly ranked as well. He opted to play defensive back for Iowa over quarterback at South Dakota State in 2021.
It didn’t take long for DeJean to showcase his athletic ability as he became an All-American after his 2022, true-sophomore season. Racking up 75 tackles, three tackles for loss, five interceptions (3 of which were pick-sixes) and eight pass-breakups. He was also very explosive in the return game as well, with 10 returns at a 16.5-yard average.
The now BIG 10 preseason defensive player of the year is athletic, versatile and appears to be even more productive than before as the 2023 season unfolds.
KEY STATS (via Sports Reference CFB)
2021 (Iowa): 7 games, 3 tackles (1 AST)
2022 (Iowa): 13 games, 56 tackles (19 AST), 5 interceptions, 3 TDS, 8 PBU
DeJean’s athletic ability is showcased by the many positions Iowa has him playing. He’s everywhere. He’s an electric return man, a stout outside corner, has the range for safety, an instinctive linebacker and has the toughness when Iowa even lines him up in the nickel. And it never appears to be too much for him. It is all encompassed by his keen vision all over the field paired with a high football IQ.
He has the ability to line up in all of those positions because of his athletic prowess. He was a member of the illustrious Bruce Feldman’s “Freak List” in 2022 and is projected to test very well at the combine (rumored 4.3 40). If outside corner is his designated position, once he gets his hips turned, the vertical speed is easy to see. On returns, he’s more of an in-line runner and doesn’t have that short-area quickness. But if he can find a seam, he’s got an excellent burst and explosion.
Jack of all trades, master of none
The tough thing with a lot (most) of these hybrid defensive players that can play multiple positions is that it hasn’t necessarily translated well into the NFL. I do hold out hope for DeJean in that some defensive coordinator (special teams as well) is going to find a role for him at the next level. He has good vertical speed at outside corner but lacks in short space quickness and isn’t as fluid as you’d like to see.
He has good range for playing safety and I think his closing speed is adequate. And although Iowa played him at linebacker some, I wouldn’t put him there. He’s got good size for a secondary position but isn’t built for playing downhill every snap. However, he’s a very good tackler no matter what position he is playing on the field.
DeJean has excellent in-line speed. But he’s a little stiff in turning his hips, backpedaling and lacks the fluid footwork you’d like to see from an outside corner. His transitions can use a bit of refinement, although based on his athleticism, I believe it is something he can easily fix and isn’t too much of a drawback as he recovers very well.
He more than has good size and is generally a pretty tough defensive player, but he tends to get caught up in press-man a lot. Along with the somewhat stiffness that he plays with, he’s better off playing in a cover 3 or a more zone-oriented scheme.
That being said, no teams run strictly zone or off-man coverage. DeJean would thrive there, but the initial stiffness and lack of fluidity is a detriment to playing one-on-one as a true outside corner. However, with his tools, I think it would be something that is readily coachable.
Regardless, he’s a consensus top 32 player at this point and there’s plenty of conversation to be had for him to be CB1 in the draft. The athletic tools and versatility are just too hard to pass up. And let me make it clear that you’re not just drafting his athletic upside. There’s plenty of production and the traits jump out more than his flaws – no matter what position he’s lined up as. And not only that, you’re getting a special team ace. You’d be hard-pressed to find a defensive coordinator in the NFL that can’t find a role for DeJean consistently.
The anomaly with DeJean is the hybrid defensive player that is adequate at multiple positions but doesn’t excel at one. And that’s been proven to be a hard trajectory for a lot of college prospects with the same profile in recent draft history that haven’t panned out in the NFL – especially with expending 1st round draft capital on him.
But with DeJean he’s not a project. You’re not drafting him based on his upside and athletic tools. The tape and proven production more than outshine the idea of him being a possible projection and merits a top-20 pick – even the first corner taken come next spring.
There is a road for him to be a designated outside corner full-time. But he can be schemed anywhere, plugged in when injuries start to pile up and he’s excellent on special teams. Any coach is going to find a way to utilize him properly and efficiently and warrant their team’s decision to draft him very high.