Iowa CB Cooper DeJean’s path to becoming one of the best all-around defensive backs in college football

  • Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean sat down for an exclusive interview with PFF.
  • One of the most versatile players in the country: DeJean excels both in coverage and against the run while playing outside cornerback, slot corner and in the box for the Hawkeyes.
  • “I have to be better than I was last year”: Despite being one of the best corners in the country in 2022, the rising junior isn’t content with being complacent.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

If there’s one word to describe Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean, it would be versatile. 

At OABCIG high school, he was one of the most decorated athletes in Iowa state history. In football, he holds the school record for career passing yards, passing touchdowns and touchdown receptions while also leading the Falcons to their first two state championships in program history. In basketball, his 1,832 career points are 55 more than current Sacramento King Harrison Barnes on the state’s all-time scoring list. In track, he won the state championship in both the long jump (23 feet, 7.5 inches) and 100-meter dash (11.16 seconds). He also played three years of varsity baseball. 

Playing all of those sports didn’t just create an outstanding high school resume, they also assisted DeJean in excelling on the gridiron.

“They helped a lot,” DeJean said in an exclusive interview with PFF. “Track especially helped build up my speed. Basketball helped my footwork and in understanding situations just like in football. They all tie into one another in some way.”

Despite being a four-star recruit, he only received one FBS offer coming out of high school. Fortunately for DeJean, it was the school he dreamt of playing at all along. 

“I always knew in my head that Iowa was the place I wanted to be,” DeJean said. “Coming out of a small town, playing for Iowa was something you dreamed of growing up. I dreamed of being out there on the field and wearing the black and gold.”

DeJean isn’t just versatile in terms of how many sports he excelled at. He’s also incredibly flexible in terms of how he was used at Iowa. As a sophomore this past season, he played outside corner, slot corner, in the box as a linebacker and even lined up as an edge defender at times. 

When asked if there was a particular position DeJean enjoyed the most, he shook his head. 

“I enjoy just being on the football field, playing wherever they put me,” DeJean said. “I like covering guys on the outside. When you get in the box, that’s where it gets real fun. You get to be around the ball a lot. With the big boys, I need to figure out how to get around those guys at 205 pounds. Wherever on the football field, I enjoy it.”

Not only is he a jack-of-all-trades due to how he lines up for the Hawkeyes, DeJean’s also one of the best all-around defensive backs in college football. In 2022, the sophomore was the only corner in the country this past season that earned 85-plus grades both in coverage and as a run-defender. DeJean’s five interceptions tied for fourth among Power Five cornerbacks while his 15 run-defense stops tied for the most among all FBS corners. 

While run defense isn’t necessarily what cornerbacks are mainly known for, it’s something DeJean very much takes pride in.

“I just want to be around the ball and help our defense be that much better,” he said. “Stopping the run, that’s something that we stress on our defense. It takes all 11 guys. I take pride in finding the ball, getting there as fast as possible and delivering a blow when I get there. As defensive backs, you’re the last line of defense. You have to make that stop.”

DeJean enters his junior season as the fifth-best returning cornerback in college football and is a projected top-20 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. While the NFL hype is certainly something he’s aware of, he won’t let it get in the way of his job this upcoming season.

“I’ve heard a little bit about it,” DeJean said. “I try to not pay attention to that stuff right now because I still have a long way to go before that comes. I need to be able to play my best on Saturdays in the fall for the Iowa Hawkeyes in order to put myself in that position.”

It’d be easy for an athlete of DeJean’s caliber to be selfish and focus on what’s best for his career; however, he’s not one to ever put his needs first.

“All my individual goals are team goals,” DeJean said. “I just want to do my part on the defense and special teams. We have a lot of expectations coming into this season. Hopefully, we can get to Indianapolis and beyond this season.”

Despite being one of the best all-around defensive backs in college football, complacency isn’t an option for the rising junior.

“I have to be better than I was last year.”

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