Why the Slide?: Cooper DeJean, CB, Iowa

Cooper DeJean

This series was created a number of years ago in response to questions about why certain well-known prospects went unselected in NFL drafts. For these articles, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. The positive response to “Why Undrafted” and questions from readers about why prospects were drafted lower than the media expectations led us to create the parallel series “Why the Slide?”

Both series are back this year. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

Throughout the leadup to the 2024 NFL Draft, Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean was a consensus first-round prospect. While his 2023 season ended early due to a broken leg, he was superb prior to that, recording 41 tackles, two interceptions and five passes broken up. DeJean was even better back in 2022, totaling 75 tackles, five interceptions and eight passes defended. On top of his excellent production, the 6-foot-1, 209-pounder has excellent size, speed and intangibles. Thus, DeJean was often projected to be a top-20 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. It was a real shock when DeJean slid to the second round and did not come off the board until the 40th pick.

In speaking to team sources, DeJean slid because of the position projection. Many teams felt he would not fit as an outside cornerback in the NFL and would have to be a nickel slot corner and safety. Rightly or wrongly, those type of defensive backs are often taken in the second round of draft – see Brian Branch. A number of sources who are scouts were high on DeJean and had him graded in the first round, but said when the coaches got involved, their teams moved DeJean downward on their boards because the coaches felt a lack of twitch with DeJean would be a problem for him to be a starting outside corner in the NFL.

During the week of the 2024 NFL Draft, I texted with one general manager whose team was rumored to be targeting DeJean, and they said their team liked DeJean but he was more of a second-round candidate for them. Another source from a team that was in the market for a cornerback said they had DeJean in Round 2 as well. A source who is at the director level of a team that drafted a cornerback in the early rounds said the scouts were high on DeJean but that the coaches pushed him down because of the position-change projection.

The Philadelphia Eagles ended DeJean’s fall in the second round, and they were a mixed place to end up. On the positive side, the Eagles have a huge need at cornerback for long-term starters. DeJean and first-round pick Quinyon Mitchell could develop behind James Bradberry and Darius Slay for a year before becoming the starting tandem.

If the Eagles, however, view DeJean as a slot corner/safety, or try him at outside corner and then realize he has to be a slot corner/safety, they already have a good established veteran who plays that role in C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Philadelphia just paid Gardner-Johnson a lot of money in a 3-year contract. Additionally, Gardner-Johnson is known to be an aggressive teammate who has fought with teammates and coaches. It could make for some locker-room turmoil if Gardner-Johnson loses some playing time to DeJean. Eagles defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is respected around the league and will use DeJean well. It will be fascinating to see how DeJean’s career unfolds in Philadelphia, but he could turn into an excellent defensive back with his outstanding instincts and skill set. It would not be surprising if DeJean ends up being one of the biggest steals of the 2024 NFL Draft.


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