Seahawks 2024 Draft Profile: Cooper DeJean

A viable option to step into an NFL starting lineup at corner as well, dynamic defender Cooper DeJean may make sense for a team such as the Seahawks in a different role in the secondary.
Sep 16, 2023; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Cooper DeJean (3) returns a punt
Sep 16, 2023; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Cooper DeJean (3) returns a punt / Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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With the 2024 NFL Draft set to kick off in Detroit on Thursday, April 25, the Seattle Seahawks will look to infuse their roster with young talent as they embark on a new era under coach Mike Macdonald, starting with the 16th overall pick in the first round.

Over the next month leading up to draft weekend, I will be dishing out in-depth profiles on numerous prospects who could be targets on Seattle's big board, including prospect background, strengths, weaknesses, and potential fit on Macdonald's squad.

Up next in this year's scouting series, the Seahawks have made major investments at cornerback over the past couple of years, but safety stands out as a long-term area of concern. Would ball hawking All-American Cooper DeJean fit the bill as a potential first-round target?

Background: Starring as a dual-threat quarterback and defensive back along with being a standout basketball player, DeJean earned First-Team All-State honors three times and led OABCIG High School to back-to-back state championships on the gridiron before committing to Iowa. As a true freshman, he saw action in seven games, including starting once at free safety, producing four tackles. He enjoyed his breakout season for the Hawkeyes in 2022 as a sophomore, leading the nation with three interceptions returned for touchdowns and earning First-Team All-Big Ten distinction. While an injury ultimately shortened his final college season, he still posted two interceptions and returned a punt for a touchdown while being named a consensus All-American before declaring early for the 2024 NFL Draft.

One of the most dangerous defensive playmakers in the nation, Cooper DeJean tallied seven interceptions in his final two seasons at Iowa.
One of the most dangerous defensive playmakers in the nation, Cooper DeJean tallied seven interceptions in his final two seasons at Iowa. / Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Strengths: No defensive player in college football has been more electric with the football in his hands than DeJean, whose background as a former quarterback and basketball player shows up when he jumps a route and reels in an interception. Elusive and explosive, he turns into a running back wiggling through overwhelmed offensive players trying to tackle him in open field after quick possession changes, resulting in a remarkable three pick sixes in the 2022 season alone.

To set up those defensive score opportunities, DeJean relies on his generational instincts and ball skills to routinely put himself in position to create turnovers. He excels at reading the eyes of opposing quarterbacks and has an excellent understanding of opposing route concepts, allowing him to undercut throws and always be around the football in coverage even if he isn't directly targeted by the opposing quarterback. In three seasons, he surrendered just two touchdowns compared to seven interceptions and nine pass breakups while allowing under a 50 percent completion rate.

Well built at 6-0, 203 pounds, DeJean proved himself to be a reliable tackler from day one in Iowa City. Exhibiting sound technique and plenty of physicality playing downhill defending the run to wrap up and bring down ball carriers, he produced 73 tackles with only three missed tackles in 2022, posting an elite 3.9 percent missed tackle rate. As an outside corner, he actually spent a fair amount of time in the box and held his own, producing five tackles for loss in the past two seasons.

As illustrated by his dynamic theatrics returning interceptions, DeJean also gave opposing special teams coordinators nightmares as a punt return maestro. In his final two collegiate seasons, he returned 31 punts for 406 yards and a touchdown, consistently making defenders miss in space and using his speed to pick up big chunks of yardage.

Weaknesses: Despite having legitimate 4.4 speed and shutting down opposing receivers for the most part, DeJean did have issues at times defending receivers on vertical routes. A bit tight-hipped turning to sprint downfield, he frequently found himself a few steps behind having to play catchup and gave up a handful of big plays as a result, including two 30-plus yard receptions in 2022 and a 61-yard reception last season.

When tested vertically, DeJean's ability to track and play the football wasn't quite as sharp either. There were several examples over the past two seasons where he didn't turn to make a play on the ball on go routes along the sideline and he reacted by getting his hands on the receiver without turning his head, leading to pass interference penalties. If he's going to remain a boundary corner in the NFL, this area of his game will have to be cleaned up.

Durability may not be a long-term concern for DeJean, but he did suffer a broken fibula in practice late in the 2023 season and wasn't able to participate in the NFL combine as a result. Prospective teams will have to evaluate him medically, though the fact he did run well at his pro day on April 8 should be viewed as a positive sign.

Fit in Seattle: After drafting Devon Witherspoon with the fifth overall pick last season and striking gold on a fifth-round pick in budding star Riq Woolen one year earlier, the Seahawks shouldn't be in the market for a cornerback early in the 2024 NFL Draft. But the team has significant questions beyond 2024 at safety with Pro Bowler Julian Love and recently signed K'Von Wallace both being free agents next spring and Rayshawn Jenkins on a two-year deal with an easy opt out before 2025.

Looking at DeJean's traits and skill set, most specifically his rare ball skills, some teams will still view him as a blue chip corner prospect. In the case of Seattle, however, his physicality and instincts would make him a fascinating do-it-all safety in Mike Macdonald's scheme and any concerns about his occasional struggles against the deep ball outside would be negated using him as a dangerous playmaking chess piece.

While he isn't the same player as Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton, who thrived playing for Macdonald, DeJean could have the same type of immediate impact. Pairing him with Witherspoon and Woolen would give the Seahawks one of the best young secondaries in the league and if he's still available when they are on the clock in the first round at No. 16 overall or after a trade down, don't be surprised if he's strongly considered as the selection.


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Corbin K. Smith

CORBIN K. SMITH

Graduating from Manchester College in 2012, Smith began his professional career as a high school Economics teacher in Indianapolis and launched his own NFL website covering the Seahawks as a hobby. After teaching and coaching high school football for five years, he transitioned to a full-time sports reporter in 2017, writing for USA Today's Seahawks Wire while continuing to produce the Legion of 12 podcast. He joined the Arena Group in August 2018 and also currently hosts the daily Locked On Seahawks podcast with Rob Rang and Nick Lee. Away from his coverage of the Seahawks and the NFL, Smith dabbles in standup comedy, is a heavy metal enthusiast and previously performed as lead vocalist for a metal band, and enjoys distance running and weight lifting. A habitual commuter, he resides with his wife Natalia in Colorado and spends extensive time reporting from his second residence in the Pacific Northwest.