Could Iowa 2024 NFL Draft Prospect Cooper DeJean Play Safety in the NFL?

Will Iowa 2024 NFL Draft prospect Cooper DeJean stay at CB in the NFL, or could he switch to safety and be a versatile defensive chess piece?

Iowa’s Cooper DeJean is widely regarded as one of the best defensive prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft. But what position will he play at the NFL level? Will he remain a cornerback, make the move to safety, or blend the line between those roles?

Cooper DeJean’s 2024 NFL Draft Projection

DeJean earned real estate in way-too-early 2024 NFL Draft first-round mocks when he distinguished himself as an elite playmaker in 2022, amassing 75 tackles, three tackles for loss, five interceptions (with three pick-sixes), and eight pass breakups.

Those early projections don’t always withstand the test of time, but DeJean’s has. After another strong season in 2023, in which the Iowa DB put up 41 tackles, two TFLs, two picks, and five PBUs, he’s viewed as a top-25 prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft class.

DeJean’s early declaration as a true junior is representative of his pedigree — but there are still questions about which position DeJean will play at the NFL level.

DeJean was primarily a boundary cornerback in his time with the Hawkeyes. In particular, he excelled playing in off-man and zone as a side-saddle CB, playing with his eyes to the ball, using his smooth athleticism and route IQ to glide in space and undercut routes.

That said, DeJean also saw his fair share as a support defender, occupying blocks to the field side. And there’s been speculation that, with his size at 6’1″and 209 pounds, DeJean could be better utilized as a slot defender or safety once he reaches the professional ranks.

What projection of DeJean is correct, or does the truth lie somewhere in the middle?

What Position Will DeJean Play in the NFL?

There’s no reason why DeJean can’t continue to take boundary CB reps at the NFL level. At his size, he’s effortlessly explosive, with tremendous recovery speed, and he also has the lateral agility and hyperactive short-area mobility to correct his leverage midway through reps.

For DeJean, however, the biggest questions as a boundary CB come in press-man. Naturally, at almost 210 pounds, he can be a bit muscle-bound at times, particularly when he’s asked to sink his hips on sharp transitions.

DeJean is fluid enough, but that lack of elite sink and hinge fluidity can be detrimental against fluid, technically sound route runners, and it could impact his recovery capacity in press-man against NFL athletes.

The issue of whether DeJean should play at safety or cornerback isn’t sourced from any coverage liabilities on DeJean’s end. Rather, it’s a discussion of playing most aggressively to DeJean’s strengths and mitigating his minor but notable weaknesses.

DeJean can survive at CB in different coverage looks. But as a safety, he’d be able to play with his eyes to the QB constantly. As a playmaker in coverage, his gliding athleticism, range, processing ability, route recognition, reaction speed, and ball skills would translate perfectly.

Additionally, in a hybrid safety role, DeJean could be utilized more exhaustively in run support — a role in which he also thrives. Already, DeJean is a superb support defender who essentially functions as a nickel LB with the way he can explode downhill, encumber blocks, deconstruct, and make tackles.

Ultimately, the most rewarding path forward for DeJean — and for defensive coordinators who use him — might be as a versatile mismatch piece on the back end, with flexibility across all three spots: Cornerback, nickel, and safety. That was a conclusion I came to in my scouting report of DeJean:

“There’s an outcome where DeJean splits time between the boundary, the slot, and field safety at the NFL level. Ultimately, he’s an extremely role-versatile player based on game script. Let him hover and play in space, and let him crash downhill and attack blocks. Either way, he’ll produce from whichever alignment he takes on these jobs.”

MORE: Top CBs in the 2024 NFL Draft

Because DeJean has so much upside as a mismatch piece in the modern NFL, and because that’s where his unique tools have already been projected, he’s listed as a safety in Pro Football Network’s Mock Draft Simulator. But make no mistake: DeJean can do it all.

All the 2024 NFL Draft resources you need — the draft order, the top QBs, the Top 100 prospects, and the full 2024 Big Board — right at your fingertips at Pro Football Network!

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