Is Cooper DeJean’s Versatility to Play Safety Actually Hurting His Draft Status?

Wisonsin v Iowa
Wisonsin v Iowa / Matthew Holst/GettyImages

I must confess...... Cooper DeJean, the versatile defensive back from Iowa, initially found himself lower on my draft rankings. Why? Because I, too, fell into the trap of viewing him primarily as a safety—a position that often takes a backseat to cornerbacks in terms of positional value. But today, I stand corrected. DeJean’s versatility transcends labels, and it’s time to recognize him for what he truly is: an elite cornerback prospect with All-Pro potential.

The Versatility Paradox

DeJean’s ability to seamlessly transition between cornerback and safety positions is both a blessing and a curse. Coaches love versatility, but the NFL scouting machine tends to pigeonhole players. DeJean’s excellence at both spots has led to questions about where he truly belongs. Is he a safety? A cornerback? The answer lies in understanding his unique skill set.

Elite Athleticism

At his private pro day workout, DeJean left NFL evaluators slack-jawed. Depending on who you get your pro day information from, his 40-yard dash time hovered around 4.4 seconds, placing him among the upper echelon of cornerbacks who ran at the 2024 NFL Combine. His 38.5-inch vertical jump proves that he possesses explosive athleticism—a trait that screams “elite” in the NFL. While he didn't do any agility testing during his pro day, he tested out as the 28th most athletic cornerback to ever enter the draft, according to MathBomb.

Boundary Corner Potential

Let’s address the elephant in the room (well, one of the elephants in the room): Cooper DeJean possesses the raw talent to be an exceptional boundary corner. Standing at 6’1" and weighing 209 pounds, he’s tailor-made for the outside cornerback position. When evaluating cornerbacks, DeJean checks all the boxes you look for in an elite cornerback:

He is above average in all of the following traits for a CB:

  1. Size: He has the physicality to match up against bigger receivers.
  2. Speed: His 40-yard dash time proves he can keep pace with the fastest wideouts.
  3. Ball Skills: DeJean’s knack for interceptions and game-changing plays is undeniable (7 interceptions in the past two seasons)
  4. Tackling: He fearlessly mixes it up in run support

The Safety Conundrum

But here’s the twist: The NFL doesn’t value safeties as highly as cornerbacks. While DeJean has the ability to play safety, teams prioritize cornerbacks in the draft. It’s a positional bias that could lead to him being overlooked. Yet, if we dig deeper, we find a player who could redefine the safety position if given the chance, but should be viewed as a CB only. Sure, if you need him to play safety in a pinch, he can surely do that and excel. But the true value lies in what he can do on an island outside.

All-Pro Potential at Corner

Picture DeJean locking down opposing receivers on the boundary. His combination of size, speed, and instincts could catapult him to All-Pro status. He’s not just another safety; he’s a defensive back with the potential to shut down half the field. If teams recognize this, they’ll discover a cornerstone player who can transform their secondary.

Cooper DeJean deserves more than a passing glance. He’s not just a safety or a cornerback; he’s a game-changer waiting to happen. As the draft draws near, (only two weeks to go!) let’s hope NFL decision-makers see beyond labels and recognize the diamond in the rough. Cooper DeJean could be the steal of the 2024 NFL Draft, and those who overlook him might regret it for years to come.

So, NFL draft fans and analysts, take note: Cooper DeJean isn’t just a safety like I previously envisioned. He’s a future star waiting to shine on Sundays. In my final rankings, DeJean will rise to his rightful place among the elite cornerbacks of this draft class. His versatility is an asset, not a liability, and the team that recognizes this will have one of the best players in this class on their hands.