Cooper DeJean Can Help Solidify the Vikings’ Defensive Backfield While Filling Another Sneaky Need

Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean (3) catches a punt at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, October 21, 2023 in Iowa City. DeJean returned the punt for a touchdown and it was later called back after review ruled he fair-caught the punt.

The Minnesota Vikings have more often than not been connected to two positions with their first-round draft pick: QB and EDGE/OLB.

However, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, Minnesota could use a few more immediate contributors. Cooper DeJean is a very versatile player in the secondary and has an opportunity to land a starting role with an NFL defense in 2024. The Iowa CB and his elite skills are the focus of today’s edition of the Vikings Draft Thermometer series.


Cooper DeJean
Iowa defensive back Cooper DeJean (3) runs a drill during the Hawkeyes’ final spring NCAA football practice, Saturday, April 22, 2023, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.
  • Height: 6’1″
  • Weight: 205 pounds
  • Arm Length: TBD
  • Hand Size: TBD
  • Wingspan: TBD
  • 40-Yard Dash: TBD
  • School: Iowa
  • Games Watched: Wisconsin (2023), Penn State (2023), Michigan State (2023)

Cooper DeJean actually played the quarterback position throughout much of his high school career and led OABCIG High School to a state title during his junior year. He eventually committed to Iowa as the 149th-ranked recruit in Class of 2021 and No. 8 at the safety position by 247 Sports.

Despite many projecting him to be a safety, DeJean turned himself into a terrific cornerback for the Hawkeyes. He did not see the field much during his freshman season as he transitioned to the CB spot, but his sophomore year saw a massive jump in playing time and production. His five interceptions during the 2022 season ranked second in the Big Ten behind only Sydney Brown.

The 2023 season solidified DeJean’s status as a top draft prospect, continuing his dominance against Big Ten receivers. He achieved All-American status because of his efforts while also winning the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year award. Now, the Iowa CB heads to the NFL Draft hoping to become the latest Hawkeye to be selected as a Top-50 pick.


Nov 4, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats wide receiver Cam Johnson (14) tries to catch a pass as Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Cooper DeJean (3) defends during the first half at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports


  • 2021: 4 tackles, 93.8 NFL passer rating against (7 games)
  • 2022: 75 tackles, 3 TFLs, 8 passes defended, 5 INTs, 49.7 NFL passer rating against (13 games)
  • 2023: 41 tackles, 2 TFLs, 5 passes defended, 2 INTs, 37.8 NFL passer rating against (10 games)

Punt Returning

  • 2022: 10 returns, 165 yards (16.5 yards per return)
  • 2023: 21 returns, 241 yards (11.5 yards per return), 1 return TD


Oct 21, 2023; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Cooper DeJean (3) looks on during the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

DeJean is an outstanding athlete with an ability to blanket receivers downfield. He tracks the ball well in the air and uses his length to break up passes. He has a freakish ability to accelerate in his pursuit of opposing receivers, and his seven interceptions over the past two seasons showed he can make plays on the ball.

Not only can DeJean help a defense in coverage, but he is a tenacious run stopper with an ability to shed blockers with powerful hands. He is a technically sound tackler who delivers a strong pop with his large frame at the CB spot.

Finally, DeJean is an outstanding punt returner, giving him a lane to garner immediate snaps with the special teams as well. He had a punt return TD in 2023 and averaged a touch over 13 yards per return over his career.


Sep 16, 2023; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Cooper DeJean (3) returns a punt against the Western Michigan Broncos during the second quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

DeJean has elite straight-line speed, but he can struggle when forced to play press-man on the boundary. He had trouble at times against more fluid route runners because of an inability to match opponents’ ability to change directions. In part due to his large size at the CB position, he doesn’t have the most flexible hips, which doesn’t allow him to stick in man coverage.

As a result, Iowa utilized him far more often in zone coverage, with just 64 of his 388 coverage snaps coming in man, per PFF. Depending on the team that ultimately drafts him, this could certainly hurt him in terms of his ability to play on the boundary at the NFL level and force him to at least begin his career at safety before his flexibility improves.

NFL Projection

Oct 21, 2023; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Cooper DeJean (3) reacts during the second quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
  • Draft Stock: Second Round-Top 50
  • Immediate Role: Starting safety and punt returner
  • NFL Comp: Nick Collins
  • Vikings Draft Thermometer: 45

The Minnesota Vikings got some spectacular production from their safety group in 2023, but it may be time to begin thinking about the future of that position. Harrison Smith may be heading toward the end of his time in Minnesota (and potentially the NFL) as he approaches his age-35 season while Camryn Bynum’s rookie contract comes to an end at the conclusion of 2024.

DeJean offers security at the position and can fill Minnesota’s void at the punt returning spot with Brandon Powell also heading to free agency this offseason. Don’t rule out the idea of him figuring things out at the cornerback position, either, giving him even more of an immediate role in the Vikings’ defense. If he is still on the board at No. 42 overall, the Vikings should seriously consider taking the Hawkeye defender.

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via 247 SportsPro Football Focus and Sports Reference CFB.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.