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Why the Slide? Iowa CB Cooper DeJean

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By: MattInBrisVegas

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

NFL team intel from Walterfootball’s Charlie Campbell

In his first draft with the Commanders, Adam Peters raised some eyebrows by picking three players in the third round well ahead of where the media experts had expected them to be drafted. Those choices were reminiscent of a long-standing pattern in the 49ers’ drafts, raising questions about whether our new GM had picked up a bad habit of reaching in the draft from his former team.

Peters also pulled off a major steal, when Illinois DT Johnny Newton fell to the Commanders’ first pick in the second round. Both Peters and the media experts had expected Newton to come off the board much earlier in the first round.

The suspected reach picks kicked off a spirited discussion of Drafting Against Consensus on Hogs Haven. My contribution to the conversation was to call into question the premise of grading a team’s draft choices based on media expert opinion. I gave four reasons that consensus draft boards are a poor substitute for teams’ draft boards:

  1. Consensus boards confound rankings from evaluators and forecasters.
  2. Consensus boards don’t fully account for effects of position value.
  3. Media experts are generally less expert than the experts working for NFL teams.
  4. Media consensus boards are generic. NFL draft boards are built for one team.

There is a fifth reason that I’m convinced that NFL teams often view prospects very differently from the media. I am an avid reader of Charlie Campbell’s series “Why the Slide?”

Charlie Campbell is a reporter for the website Walterfootball. Campbell is very well connected with NFL teams, and draws on his sources to provide intel on how teams view prospects throughout the draft process. Throughout the college football season and draft lead-up, he publishes regular draft stock updates. Then after the draft he publishes “Why the Slide?” and “Why Undrafted?”, reporting on players that teams had rated significantly lower than the media.

Campbell’s reporting is very educational about how NFL teams see players, and sometimes grade them differently from the experts. Every year more than 20 players get picked significantly later than their projections. Some of the main reasons that players slide, or go undrafted after generating media buzz, are medical and character concerns and difficulty projecting them to a position. Perhaps the most common reason is that NFL teams simply graded them lower than the experts did.

In light of the recent attention to drafting against consensus, I thought it would be informative to have a look at Campbell’s reporting on what NFL team sources had to say about some players of interest to Washington fans, who ended up sliding or going undrafted.

To kick things off, I decided to start with a player who was central to one of the Commanders’ more controversial draft decisions. Throughout the lead up to the 2024 draft, Iowa CB Cooper DeJean had been considered one of the top prospects at his position, in addition to being one of the most dynamic return men in college football. Arif Hasan’s Consensus Board ranked him as the 22nd best prospect in the draft class, and The Athletic’s consensus big board ranked him 24th.

Michigan State v Iowa
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Contrary to media expectations, DeJean slid all the way out of the first round and was still available when the Commanders were on the clock for their second pick in second round. Excitement had begun to build on the Hogs Haven open thread as DeJean slid toward the Commanders, sitting at the 40th overall pick.

The team had major needs at boundary CB due to the departure of Kendall Fuller and the lack of any clear starters at the position on the remaining roster. Furthermore, Dan Quinn and Joe Whitt’s heavy usage of Cover-1 and Cover-3 schemes will require some new skillsets in the Commanders’ secondary. DeJean has the size, athleticism and physicality that new coaching staff seems to look for, although concerns have been raised about DeJean’s fit for man coverage duties.

To the surprise of many, the Commanders traded the pick to the division rival Philadelphia Eagles who, it turned out, had moved up to draft DeJean. After having demonstrated his commitment to the “best player available” philosophy by ending Johnny Newton’s slide at pick #36, why didn’t Peters double up and grab another first-round talent who had fallen to the second round?

Campbell spoke to multiple team sources about the reasons for DeJean’s slide and reported the following:

In speaking to team sources, DeJean slid because of the position projection. Many teams felt he would not fit as an outside cornerback in the NFL and would have to be a nickel slot corner and safety. Rightly or wrongly, those type of defensive backs are often taken in the second round of draft – see Brian Branch. A number of sources who are scouts were high on DeJean and had him graded in the first round, but said when the coaches got involved, their teams moved DeJean downward on their boards because the coaches felt a lack of twitch with DeJean would be a problem for him to be a starting outside corner in the NFL.

During the week of the 2024 NFL Draft, I texted with one general manager whose team was rumored to be targeting DeJean, and they said their team liked DeJean but he was more of a second-round candidate for them. Another source from a team that was in the market for a cornerback said they had DeJean in Round 2 as well. A source who is at the director level of a team that drafted a cornerback in the early rounds said the scouts were high on DeJean but that the coaches pushed him down because of the position-change projection.

Ten picks later, we learned that the Commanders had their eye on another nickel CB in the range that they traded back to. Peters commented after the draft:

Mikey Sainristil, another captain. And another one where we were pretty nervous there because as it was coming down to him, I mean, that’s who we had our sights set on…

…Yeah, so Mikey’s gonna play inside. He’s gonna be a nickel, we call it a star. Mikey…he might be smaller, but he is as physical as they come. He’ll bring it every time. He’s tough. He’s extremely smart. The one thing, not the one thing, but many things, he does really well, but he takes the ball away. He had six interceptions this year. I can’t imagine anybody’s in his class in terms of ball skills on the defensive side of the ball. He’s got incredible ball skills and that’s what we look for is speed and ball skills. His instincts. And so, we believe in him to be a really, really good player as a nickel.

We may never know how the Commanders had DeJean rated relative so Sainristil. But it appears that they ended up with a player that fits what they want to do on the field, with the character they are looking for to build a winning culture in the locker room.

The trade back with the Eagles also allowed them to draft TE Ben Sinnott, as the first of three players they appear to have rated much more highly than the media.

Peters seemed to acknowledge some nagging doubts about letting a quality player go to a division rival, but in the end, decided to make a move that was best for his team:

You always have that in the back of your mind but Howie is a friend, and he came with a strong offer, …really it was favorable in terms of the point chart, favorable for us, but really we liked it in terms of what it gave us and given those two picks in 50 and 53. A lot of times you have to move really far back but that one we had to move 10 picks back, but then we also got another pick where we moved really far up where that either you could sit there and pick at 53 or you have optionality to move back again and pick up some more picks. So, we liked how that pick lined up for us in terms of where our board was. So, you always think, he was very convicted in doing that, so kudos to him for having that, for having the conviction to do that. But we’re going to be playing Cooper DeJean so we’ll see what happens. And you never know who’s going to win those trades, and I don’t think you can even really figure that out for years down the line.

What do you think? Did the Commanders blow it, by failing to pick the best player available? Will letting Cooper DeJean fall to the Eagles come back to bite them? Or did they get better value by passing on a nickel corner who wasn’t a fit, to draft one they liked better, and pick up another offensive weapon who can also help with the blocking?


Originally posted on Hogs Haven