Why the Detroit Lions should draft Cooper DeJean

Brandon Knapp tells you why the Detroit Lions should take Cooper DeJean in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Hawkeye Football: Iowa Star Cooper DeJean Suffers Season-Ending Injury -  Black Heart Gold Pants

Another cornerback is on the board for my draft crushes this draft season. Iowa Hawkeyes cornerback Cooper DeJean is a great fit for the Detroit Lions at pick 29, as he is one of the most versatile players this team could have, more than defensive back Brian Branch. DeJean could help fill a need at cornerback, and with the ability to play safety and be a kick/punt returner as well, it gives him plenty of opportunities to see the field as a rookie.

DeJean is also coming off a broken leg he suffered in November, and Lions general manager Brad Holmes loves a player coming off an injury. The good news is that DeJean seems to already be fully healthy and ready to play as he held a private workout for scouts to see earlier this month, and he did every drill except for the shuttle cone. So unlike others who might need more time to recover, DeJean has no problem showing up and practicing this spring and summer before the season kicks off.

Let’s get into why I believe the Detroit Lions should draft Cooper DeJean in the 2024 NFL Draft and maybe after reading, you’ll be on board too.

Collegiate History

DeJean didn’t play much his freshman year in 2021, appearing in just seven games, but his role expanded as he became a starter in 2022 and took off. In his three years at Iowa, DeJean finished with 120 tackles, 13 pass deflections, seven interceptions (returning three for touchdowns), and five tackles for loss. He can also return punts, as he had 31 returns for 406 yards and a touchdown in his career at Iowa. His stats did take a dip in 2023 compared to 2022, but that was because nobody knew who DeJean was really in 2022, and they learned the next year to not throw the ball towards him. He saw 72 targets come his way in 2022 (allowing just 37 completions), but only had 46 targets in 2023 (20 completions).

DeJean was an All-American in 2023 and was first team for the All-Big Ten team. In 2022, DeJean was on the second team for the All-Big Ten coaches team, but first for the media’s. Going from a backup with not much play time to an All-Conference team member to an All American is a great show of growth and improvement in a player. When he gets to the NFL, he can grow and improve even more.

Players strengths

The thing that stands out for strengths for DeJean is how impressive he is in coverage. In 2022, DeJean had a PFF grade of 88.3 for coverage, 10th among cornerbacks that year. In man coverage, he saw 10 targets and only allowed four catches for 54 yards and came away with two interceptions. In zone coverage, DeJean saw 42 targets and allowed 24 catches for 297 yards, and he had two interceptions, a pass deflection, and he allowed a touchdown.

In 2023, DeJean did dip down to a 76.8 grade in coverage, which is still good, but the reason why is he saw fewer targets overall. In man coverage, he saw nine targets, only allowing two catches for 19 yards and he had a pass deflection. In zone coverage, he saw 30 targets, allowing 14 catches for 157 yards with two interceptions and pass deflections.

DeJean is very athletic, as his pro day gave him just shy of a 9.9 RAS score as a cornerback. His ability to be everywhere is helpful, and no matter where you will put him on the field, he will excel and dominate. An athletic cornerback who can keep up with majority of players and can recover well if his slips up is something that can help keep a defense tough to score against.

DeJean doesn’t even need touch the ball-carrier to have an impact on the play. Here, he is up against a wide receiver on a swing pass and DeJean challenges the wide receiver easily and makes sure to shove the receiver back into the ball-carrier and help stop the play. DeJean was able to assist on the tackle without even touching the player that needed to go down, which shows he will think of anyway possible to make a play, even if he is draped by a blocker. Could this play be any more emblematic of a “Dan Campbell guy”?

As I mentioned earlier, DeJean is impressive in coverage. While he can stay with his man, what makes him special is how he can turn an interception into six points for his team. Here he is able to catch the ball over his head—which is already not easy—and turns himself around to find the endzone. The Solid Verbal College Football Podcasts’ Dan Rubenstein gives some praise for DeJean and reiterates my points on how impactful he was for Iowa last season.

How Does Player Fit?

DeJean is a total swiss army knife when it comes to his position. While he played a majority of his snaps in 2023 as an outside corner, he had a good chunk of plays as a nickelback in 2022. His size and speed gives him the chance to play safety as well, though that would be a new endeavor for him. He also can be a punt returner for the team if wide receiver Kalif Raymond goes down, and while he only returned one kick in college, he could possibly move over to that role as the Lions don’t have a solid kick returner on their team.

With the team down an outside corner right now, they could use someone on the outside to help take that CB2 role. Carlton Davis is the top cornerback on the team, with Amik Robertson and Emmanuel Moseley being the top competitors for the other starting job. Adding DeJean gives the Lions another starting-capable option on the perimeter. With his ability to play inside or convert to safety, DeJean could be like Branch when it comes to his role on the defense. I see him best fitting as an outside cornerback on the team.

Overall, DeJean would be a big help in the secondary no matter where he ends up, and how he plays feels like a pick that fits the culture of the Detroit Lions.

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