The Jaguars checked off an important box when they hired Ryan Nielsen to fill their defensive coordinator vacancy. Nielsen will take a look a the team's current personnel and decide who fits his scheme but he will also ask the Jags to bring in players that fit his heavy man-press system. Coincidentally, draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects them to go after Iowa's cornerback Cooper DeJean in the first round next April.
Kiper just shared his first-round projections and has Jacksonville taking DeJean. He argues that they might need to draft a wide receiver if Calvin Ridley leaves in free agency but they might not be in a position to take one at No. 17, so he suggests they pick the former Hawkeye instead. Here's the skinny on the selection.
"DeJean, who was having an All-America season before he broke his leg in November, allowed just 3.5 yards per attempt as the nearest defender in coverage this past season. He had seven interceptions from 2022-23, including three pick-sixes. He could play in the slot or outside, making him a nice complementary corner with Darious Williams and Tyson Campbell."
A four-star recruit out of high school, DeJean originally played safety in college but later moved to cornerback with resounding success, tallying 75 total tackles, five interceptions, and eight passes defensed in 2022. Last season was more of the same, with the All-American nod registering two picks and five batted passes before he broke his leg.
DeJean is generally projected to go in the first round next April and is one of the top cornerback prospects in the draft. At 6'1" and 209 pounds, he lacks elite fluidity due to his frame but he's got enough foot speed and burst to play man coverage in the NFL. Ian Cummings of Pro Football Network believes DeJean could be a top-15 selection, noting that is capable of playing both man or zone in the pros because of his route IQ and reaction quickness.
If Cooper DeJean is the best player on the Jaguars board, they should draft him
At first glance, cornerback may not be a glaring need for the Jaguars. That said, Tyson Campbell and Darious Williams are set to become free agents after next season. On top of that, it's not a given that Williams and Campbell will be a good fit in Ryan Nielsen's new scheme, so using a premium pick at the position isn't that farfetched.
John Shipley of Sports Illustrated has routinely pointed out that it may make more sense for Jacksonville to bolster their cornerback room in the first round rather than the center or guard positions given that they can be addressed in later rounds.
Shipley is right that the Jaguars could still find a quality center in ther second and third rounds while most of the best corners will be gone in the first round. It's also worth noting that the Jaguars need to give the Atlanta Falcons a second or third-round pick as part of the trade they made to acquire wide receiver Calvin Ridley in 2022. It will be a second if they re-sign him but only a third if they let him walk in free agency. Regardless of the pick they give up, it will have an impact on their draft strategy.
On the bright side, the Jags expected to have a compensatory third after losing right tackle Jawaan Taylor to the Kansas City Chiefs last year. There's also free agency, so the first round isn't the only venue to make upgrades at center. Thus, they can address other needs at No. 17. Their pass rush should be one of their top priorities, but taking a cornerback also makes sense, and if they think Cooper DeJean is the best one available, they should most definitely pull the trigger.
In the end, the Jacksonville Jaguars need to nail the first round and restock the roster in the draft. If they pick a cornerback with the 17th overall selection, it won't matter as long as he becomes an impact contributor.