Michigan State v Iowa
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Iowa star defensive back and return specialist Cooper DeJean declared for the 2024 NFL Draft Thursday, bringing to an end a three-year stint with the Hawkeyes. The 2023 unanimous All American is projected as a first-round pick, No. 22 overall and fourth at his position in CBS Sports' 2024 NFL Draft prospect rankings. 

"These past three years have been filled with memories that will last a lifetime," the Sioux Falls, South Dakota native wrote in a social media post. "Putting on the black and gold and playing in Kinnick Stadium has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, and it has been everything I expected and more." 

During his time at Iowa, DeJean posted 120 tackles (88 solo), 13 pass breakups, seven interceptions and three touchdowns on defense. He also added 426 return yards and a touchdown as a returner on special teams. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection each of the past two seasons. DeJean peaked on defense in 2022, when he registered 75 total tackles, eight PBUs, five interceptions and three touchdowns. 

Although DeJean's 2023 season came to an early end when he sustained a broken leg in mid-November. it was DeJean's most productive on special teams. He logged 241 yards and a touchdown on punt returns. That came on top of 41 total tackles, five PBUs and a pair of interceptions on defense as the Hawkeyes won 10 games while also capturing its second Big Ten West Division title for the second time in a span of three seasons. 

DeJean's draft stock 

All signs point to DeJean making a mark early in his professional career thanks to the his versatility he displayed at Iowa. Wherever he lands, the 6-foot-1, 207-pound playmaker has a chance to impact both defense and special teams. CBS Sports' Josh Edwards projected DeJean to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the No. 20 overall pick in his latest mock draft on Thursday. 

"Cooper DeJean offers versatility in the secondary as well as return ability," Edwards wrote. "Tampa Bay is in a good position to compete within a weak NFC South for years to come but they need to infuse more young talent on the roster." 

Meanwhile, CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso had DeJean one spot behind Edwards in his latest mock draft, slotting the Iowa star to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 21 overall. That's splitting hairs for DeJean, who seems a near-lock as a mid first-round pick. 

"DeJean is a magnet to the football, and the Colts could use more youthful playmakers in the defensive backfield," Trapasso wrote.

What it means for Iowa

In the simplest terms possible, DeJean was Iowa's best player in 2023. He anchored a defense that vaulted the Hawkeyes to 10 wins despite an offense that was woeful in every sense of the word. Iowa ranked last in the Power Five in scoring offense at an average of 15.4 points per game, but its defense (No. 4 in the FBS, 14.97 points allowed per game) masked much of the offensive ineptitude. 

While a sturdy Iowa defense is par for the course under coach Kirk Ferentz, the loss of a talent like DeJean still comes at an inopportune time given the changes that are about to occur in the Big Ten this offseason. Iowa has long benefitted from a Big Ten West Division schedule teeming with mediocre offenses, that won't be the case in 2024 and beyond. Not only is the conference abolishing divisions, but it is also welcoming four offensive-minded newcomers in Oregon, USC, UCLA and Washington from the Pac-12. Needless to say, it's not going to be the Big Ten that Iowa fans and players alike have come to know. 

Between Ohio State, Washington, UCLA, Maryland and a Michigan State squad that is now under ex-Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith, there will be some opponents in 2024 ready to put a strain on an Iowa defense that will need others to step up amid DeJean's absence. Some good news came when cornerback Jemari Harris announced a return for 2024 after recording eight PBUs this past season, but he can't entirely mask the void that DeJean leaves behind in Iowa City.