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Unpacking Future Packers: No. 1, Iowa DB Cooper DeJean

The Unpacking Future Packers Countdown is a countdown of 100 prospects that could be selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 2024 NFL draft.

Brian Gutekunst has used the word interchangeable multiple times this offseason when asked what he’s looking for out of the safety position. He wants a safety who can come up and play in the slot and be able to handle both safety positions. 

A player that fits that description that he could target in the first round is Cooper DeJean. The versatile Iowa defensive back checks in at No. 1 in the Unpacking Future Packers Countdown.

DeJean, a four-star recruit became a full-time starter for the Hawkeyes in 2022 and responded with 75 tackles, three tackles for loss, five interceptions and 13 pass deflections.

Before suffering a broken leg this past season, DeJean recorded 41 tackles, two tackles for loss, two interceptions and seven pass deflections in 10 games. 

“He was a lockdown corner,” Tyler Tachman, an Iowa Hawkeye beat writer for the Des Moines Register said. “The type of turnover-creator that can tilt the dynamic of the game. He doesn’t make many mistakes. I hesitate to say that he was the glue to the defense because he was more than that.”

DeJean was a four-sport athlete at OA-BCIG High School. He was a standout track and field athlete and captured a state title in the 100-meter dash and long jump. He showcased that athleticism at his pro day when he clocked a 4.44 40-yard dash, posted a 38.5-inch vertical and a 10-04 broad jump. 

DeJean may be the best athlete in the 2024 NFL Draft. He’s an explosive athlete. He may also have the best ball skills. The Hawkeye defensive back plays the ball like a wide receiver and quarterbacks are tempting fate when they challenge him. Over the past two seasons, DeJean picked off seven passes and broke up 20 more. 

DeJean has great field awareness and good route recognition. Those two things paired with his quickness allow him to get himself into position to make game-changing plays.

“His ball skills are his greatest strength,” Tachman said. “He has a knack for being around the ball and making plays. He has great hands and had five interceptions as a sophomore, including three pick-sixes. If he gets his hands on the ball in open space, there’s always a chance he can do damage.”

DeJean is a rangy athlete, who could patrol the middle of a defense. He has the short-area quickness and fluidity to man the slot position. If the Packers wanted, they could even keep him out on the boundary. 

DeJean is more than willing to stick his nose up in run support. He has an appetite for the physical side of the game and may be one of the best tackling defensive backs in the class. He has a high batting average as a tackler and was tagged with five missed tackles this past season.

 DeJean is a dynamic punt returner. He finished his career at Iowa with one punt return for a touchdown and averaged 13.1 yards per return. On top of being a game-changing return man, DeJean also recorded 12 tackles on special teams.

“He has fantastic vision,” Tachman said. “He has really good feel for when to cut, accelerate, or decelerate. He makes it look much easier than it actually is. He can do it in the clutch, he had a go-ahead punt return in the fourth quarter against Michigan State last season. It gives him a platform to show off his athleticism. He played quarterback in high school so he is comfortable with the ball in his hands.”

Fit with the Packers

Cooper DeJean has been an obvious fit with the Packers since the 2023 NFL Draft wrapped up. He does everything and does it all at a high level. He’s a three-level defender and he fits everything that Gutekunst and Jeff Hafley are looking for out of the safety position. 

“Low-risk, high-reward pick,” Tachman said. “He was a central figure in one of the best defenses in college football for two consecutive seasons. He learned directly from Phil Parker, the reigning Broyles Award winner, who was also his position coach. Iowa defenders have a great track record of going on to have successful professional careers. He’s pretty quiet. He’s from a small town in Iowa and he’s cognizant of what it means to his community.”

This past season the Packers secondary accounted for six interceptions. That’s not good enough. DeJean would provide instant juice to the secondary with his dynamic playmaking ability. 

On top of everything he would provide to the defense, DeJean is a dynamic punt returner and has the speed and toughness to excel as a gunner.

DeJean checks all the boxes. He’s an outstanding athlete. He’s only 21 years old. He has the best ball skills in the draft. He’s the most versatile defensive back in the draft. He’s a reliable open-field tackler and would give Green Bay’s special teams a shot in the arm.

If Gutekunst starts getting antsy that DeJean may not be there at 25, he has the ammo to move up to ensure that he gets a player that would give the Packers a much-needed playmaker in the secondary. Sometimes the best fits are the most obvious fits.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire