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Why the Pittsburgh Steelers Should (and Shouldn’t) Draft Highly-Touted Cornerback

Cooper DeJean is a very productive and high-ceiling cornerback who is on the Steelers' radar, but would he be a good first-round pick?

The Pittsburgh Steelers could go a couple of different directions with their 20th overall pick in the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft. Offensive line and cornerback are the two positions they are most likely to address in the first round. Cornerback is an interesting case because it is not as pressing of a need as an offensive line or wide receiver, but it is a premium position that teams are always looking to upgrade. Top corners Terrion Arnold and Quinyon Mitchell are unlikely to be available when Pittsburgh makes their pick. Iowa’s Cooper DeJean is a prospect with a high ceiling who could be available at 20. Below are a few reasons why the Steelers should and shouldn’t draft Cooper DeJean.

Why the Pittsburgh Steelers Should and Shouldn’t Draft Cooper DeJean

Should: Sky-high Potential

Due to his freakish athleticism and high football IQ, DeJean has unlimited potential. He was very productive in college, too. DeJean is not the stereotypical “high ceiling” prospect who didn’t turn his potential into production at the collegiate level. Over his final two seasons at Iowa, DeJean totaled seven interceptions (three of which were returned for touchdowns) and 13 pass breakups. He was the most important and productive player on a very good Hawkeyes defense.

Unfortunately, DeJean suffered a broken leg towards the end of the 2023 season. He did not work out at the combine, but put together a very solid performance at Iowa’s pro day.

One potential red flag to note is that DeJean did not perform agility testing at his pro day. Fluidity in space has been the biggest knock on his game. Whether he didn’t test agility because of his injury or because he knew the results would be subpar, the lack of testing is worth pointing out. Either way, Cooper DeJean is a very good athlete which has put him on the Steelers and other teams’ radars.

Shouldn’t: Questionable Scheme Fit

Cooper DeJean is at his best when he can sit back in a zone, read the quarterback, and fly to the ball. Man coverage is not his strong suit. As previously noted, he is not very fluid when changing direction. This could be a red flag for the Steelers, as they play a lot of man-defense. They are looking for a cornerback to line up opposite of Joey Porter Jr. Porter is at his best in man coverage, so it could be awkward to pair him with a guy who is much more comfortable playing in a zone.

If the Steelers feel his potential is too high, they could draft Cooper DeJean knowing his weaknesses. They might be able to turn him into a strong man-coverage cornerback. But they also might think the poor scheme fit is too risky for a first-round pick.

Should: Ability to Play Multiple Positions

DeJean’s questionable man-coverage abilities may be a moot point. He could be a safety in the NFL, whether full-time or in certain packages. If the Steelers draft Cooper DeJean, it would not be as a full-time safety. They have their starting safeties. However, they don’t have much depth at the position. Until DeJean is ready to be a starter on the outside, he could get snaps as a box safety or a free-roaming safety. His aforementioned strength of playing zone defense and breaking on the ball could serve him well as a free safety.

Pittsburgh doesn’t currently have a slot cornerback on their roster. DeJean certainly isn’t a full-time slot corner. He could get some snaps there, though. Or, he could play some deep safety and allow the Steelers to slide Minkah Fitzpatrick into the slot in some packages. However they’d want to go about it, they would feel comfortable with DeJean’s versatility. Fitzpatrick is a versatile player, too, so the two could grant the defensive coaching staff some creative freedom.

Shouldn’t: Bigger Needs Elsewhere

There is no doubt that DeJean is an immensely talented player. A player of his talent being selected 20th overall in the draft would be hard to complain about. But considering the questions around his fit in Pittsburgh, they could feel better off addressing a different position. While cornerback is absolutely one of their most pressing needs, other needs are bigger. They don’t have a center on the roster, George Pickens is the only starting-caliber receiver they have, and left tackle Dan Moore Jr. could be replaced. The Steelers just might not feel comfortable drafting Cooper DeJean despite all his strengths if they can find a better fit at a position they feel is a bigger need.

Main Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports


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