Cooper DeJean was even more versatile at Iowa than you realized

Cooper DeJean was even more versatile at Iowa than you realized originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Cooper DeJean did a lot for Iowa.

The Eagles’ second-round pick mostly played boundary cornerback but he slid inside on occasion. He also played safety. And he was one of the best punt returners in the country.

But DeJean was about to be even more versatile if he returned to Iowa for his senior season. Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz says he was prepared to play DeJean quite a bit on offense in 2024.

“Had he come back, we probably would have played him on offense next year,” Ferentz said in a Zoom interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Danny Pommells this week. “I don’t know, 15, 20 plays a game. He had play-making ability. And you see it in the punt return game. He has rare ability once he gets his hands on the ball to do some things you can’t teach.”

In 2023, the Eagles' second-round pick did get a taste on offense. According to ProFootballFocus, DeJean got four total snaps on offense last season — two in the backfield and two in the slot.

DeJean only offense touch was an eight-yard pickup on an end-around in a 10-7 win over Northwestern in November.

“It was a lot of fun,” DeJean said in an interview with Iowa reporters in the week after that game. “It’s been a while since I played on the offensive side of the ball. As soon as I found out I was going to get a couple reps, I was pretty excited.”

And it was easy to see why Ferentz entertained the idea. DeJean was extremely dynamic with the ball in his hands. He had three pick-6s at Iowa and averaged 13.1 yards per punt return with a touchdown. And perhaps the most impressive play of his college career — one that the Eagles were blown away by too — didn’t even count.

The big fear from Ferentz was that DeJean would risk injury on offense and they really needed him on defense. Ferentz brought up the Nebraska game from 2022; when DeJean got hurt, the Iowa defense gave up a big play immediately.

But Ferentz was willing to risk that if DeJean returned in 2024.

“It was in our plans for next year had he chosen to come back,” Ferentz said. “And he was fully on board. He was not advocating for it but was fully supportive of it and really interested in doing it.”

Of course, we won’t get to see it. DeJean declared for the draft and the Eagles traded up to pick No. 40 in the second round to grab him. It’s a bit unclear exactly where the Eagles will play DeJean during his rookie season. They listed him as a defensive back when they selected him and value his versatility.

The Eagles think DeJean can play outside cornerback at the NFL level but there might be other ways to get him on the field early in his career. They will likely utilize as much of his versatility as possible.

During his 25 years at Iowa, Ferentz has coached a ton of really good defensive backs and DeJean is one of the best. Ferentz offered up a comp:

“One comparable I’d give you there, Micah Hyde played for us,” Ferentz said. “I think there are probably some parallels in terms of their ball skills and those types of things. Micah had great ball skills and a great nose for the ball. You call that football intelligence, I don’t know. To me, it’s something a guy works at. It’s film study. All those things factor into it. Cooper is probably a little bit bigger than Micah was coming out and a little bit faster, so he’s got the measurables and on top of that, I had to say instincts, but just a really good knowledge of the game and knows how to play it.”

Hyde was a fifth-round pick out of Iowa back in 2013 and has had a long and successful NFL career. Hyde finished his 11th NFL season in 2023, has started 128 games in his career and was a Pro Bowler in 2017 and has been a second-team All-Pro twice.

The Eagles say that out of their nine picks, five of them were what they considered “Red Star players,” who embody what it means to be an Eagle. While Howie Roseman wouldn’t divulge the names of those players, it seems likely that DeJean was one of them.

Roseman also talked about adding players this offseason who have a proverbial chip on their shoulder. Despite his wildly successful high school career as a four-sport athlete, DeJean had just one FBS offer and it was with Iowa. He made the most of it.

What are the Eagles getting in DeJean?

“First of all, just a first-class person and an outstanding football player,” Ferentz said. “It’s really interesting, I started thinking about this during the season, he’s maybe one of the best players we’ve ever had here and that’s a lot to say for a guy who hadn’t even played three full seasons at that point.”

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