The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Cooper DeJean doesn’t mind the waiting game

The Hawkeye cornerback remains confident amid his injury rehab and speculations about his future in the NFL.
Grace Smith
Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean walks off the field during the 2024 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl between No. 17 Iowa and No. 21 Tennessee at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. DeJean suffered an injury in practice earlier this season, ending his third season with Iowa. The Volunteers defeated the Hawkeyes, 35-0.

For Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean, the wait continues.

It has been over four months since DeJean last saw game action. The Hawkeye did not play in front of NFL scouts and front office personnel at either the NFL Combine from Feb. 29 to March 3, or at Iowa’s Pro Day on March 18. However, this lack of activity doesn’t concern DeJean, who plans to work out privately for teams on April 15, just 10 days before the NFL draft’s first round.

DeJean, alongside teammates Tory Taylor, Joe Evans, and Noah Shannon, is one of several Hawkeyes who could wind up playing on Sundays next season. Out of the group, cornerback DeJean is the highest projected draft pick — NBC Sports lists him as the 25th overall draft pick to the Green Bay Packers — but also hasn’t seen game action since Nov. 11, 2023, against Rutgers. Four days after the Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, DeJean fractured the fibula in his left leg, sidelining him for the rest of the season.

“As a competitor, you want to get back out on the field as soon as possible, but when you have injuries like this, you can’t rush into it,” DeJean said, noting that he’s “pretty close” to 100 percent healthy. “You have to be as patient as possible. You get to grow your knowledge of the game by watching on the sideline, watching film … learn the game from a different perspective.”

Not playing football for so long hasn’t been easy for DeJean, and neither was his decision to forgo another season of eligibility and pursue his NFL dreams. As he forges his path to the next level, some question his ability to continue at the cornerback position. These doubts don’t phase DeJean, but they do surprise his teammates, who view him as someone who can play anywhere.

Despite missing four games, including the Big Ten Championship and Citrus Bowl, DeJean still took home plenty of honors last season. Among them include a consensus first-team All-American selection, as well as the Big Ten’s Defensive Back and Return Specialist of the Year. He was also a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as college football’s top defensive player.

Registering 41 total tackles, seven pass defenses, and two interceptions in his final season with the Hawkeyes, DeJean wrapped up his collegiate career holding the program’s single-season record in picks returned for scores, making it to the end zone three times in 2022.

The 21-year-old from Odebolt, Iowa, said leaving his dream school a year early nearly tore him apart. DeJean had plenty of people to lean on, including his coaches and family. He even recalled crying in front of Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker as he discussed his indecision, but concluded that declaring for the pros was his best option.

During the offseason, DeJean trained with other prospects in California and underwent interviews with teams, where he was asked everything from defensive philosophy to whether or not he could beat Caitlin Clark in a one-on-one battle.

“It was a good bit of debate,” he said with a smile. “I just said it would be close … If I can drive to the bucket, get a couple of layups, I don’t how it would shape out.”

The only event DeJean participated in at Iowa’s Pro Day was the bench press, where he performed 16 reps of 225 pounds. Strength and physicality will be key in helping the cornerback transition to the next level.

According to NFL Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein, the 6-foot, 203-pound DeJean is “big and bundled” for a cornerback, which makes him a “no-brainer” as a punt returner and gunner in his rookie season. Zierlein also noted that despite his impressive interception count, DeJean doesn’t possess the mobility to change direction quickly, casting him as a liability in man coverage.

“DeJean should be a big athletic tester, which will help get the hype train going,” Zierlein wrote for DeJean’s NFL prospect page. “But finding the proper schematic fit will be important in unlocking his best football as a zone corner or interchangeable safety.”

A possible position change may also be in the cards for DeJean, who has started 20 games at cornerback in the Black and Gold. No white cornerback has started an NFL game since 2002. DeJean’s former teammate at the corner, Riley Moss, who is white, played just 23 defensive snaps in 2023-2024 as a member of the Denver Broncos.

DeJean said he’s heard former pro cornerback Jason Sehorn’s name thrown around quite a bit during the pre-draft process, adding that some pro players training with him call him by Sehorn more than they do his own name.

“It doesn’t really bother me too much,” DeJean said. “I’m just going to go out and be myself. Just go out and play my game.”

DeJean hasn’t strictly been a corner his collegiate career, making three starts at the leo/cash position in 2022 and another start at strong safety in 2021. Last season, he shined on special teams, averaging 11.5 yards per punt return, scoring the game-winning touchdown against Michigan State and an unofficial clutch trip to the end zone against Minnesota.

Yet the position he plays at the next level isn’t weighing too heavily on DeJean, who has also started at strong safety and leo/cash during his career. If anything, the lack of a clearly defined role only highlights his versatility.

“I feel like I have the athleticism, where I can play multiple different positions,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about playing football, getting in front of the ball, and trying to stop the other team from scoring.”

Back at OA-BCIG High School in Odebolt, Iowa, he earned the state title in the 100-meter dash as a senior, clocking in at 11.6 seconds, as well as the long jump, leaping 23 feet, 7.5 inches. His skills extend to the basketball court, where he averaged 25.9 points per game as a senior with the Falcons. Evidence of DeJean’s multi-sport past cropped up quickly once he arrived in Iowa City.

“We would go play basketball and I remember he walked in the gym, grabbed the ball, and windmill dunked,” Evans said of DeJean

Evans said it “doesn’t make sense” for any team to move DeJean away from cornerback.

“Once he has his pro day, a lot of people are going to turn heads at just how well he’s going to perform,” the defensive lineman said.

For Shannon, DeJean got his attention not just with his athletic ability, but also for his character. During his pre-draft training, people approached Shannon to ask about DeJean, who they thought might be “cocky.” Shannon told them the opposite.

“This is the quietest, most humble, human I’ve ever met, I swear,” Shannon said. “That’s one thing I love to say: he’s this all-world football player, but you’ll never know. Walking down the street, he’ll never tell you.”

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Grace Smith
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.