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2021 NFL Draft Profile: Is Jaycee Horn the cornerback Denver should take?

This is considered a deep cornerback class; is the former Gamecock a good fit as a Bronco?

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South Carolina v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Jaycee Horn would like you to know something.

He’s the best cornerback in the Draft this year.

Three weeks ago, just before his Pro Day at the University of South Carolina March 24, Horn told the media that he’s even more than just the best corner.

“I feel like I’m the best defensive player in the draft,” The State newspaper reported. “I’m versatile. I got the size, speed, I’m athletic. I faced every receiver’s body type from Kyle Pitts (Florida tight end) to Elijah Moore and (Heisman Trophy winner) Devonta Smith. I feel like I am the best defensive player in the draft.”

According to South Carolina, the 6-foot Horn weighed 205 pounds and logged a 41 1/2-inch vertical leap plus an 11-foot, 1-inch broad jump. Horn’s 40-yard dash time was 4.37, and he reportedly benched 225 pounds 19 times. At the 2020 Combine, the last time the event was held before COVID-19 closures, just five players had a better vertical jump than Horn’s Pro Day.

Determining who is the best cornerback, much less the best defender, in the 2021 Draft is clearly subjective.

But there’s no doubt Horn is in the conversation.

Key numbers

As a Gamecock, Horn led the defense in pass breakups the last two years, with nine in 2019 and six in 2020, including two interceptions - a season he only played seven games before opting out and declaring for the Draft.

Horn is also no stranger to the pro football life. As the son of four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn, Jaycee has great size, frame and physical style of play. Starting as a true freshman, Horn covered from the slot initially and then moved to boundary corner where he’s predicted to play in the NFL.

Depending on which draft guru you consult, Horn is generally mentioned among the top three or four and is expected to earn snaps right away in nickel and dime packages. His size, speed and athleticism make him an attractive prospect for teams like Denver who may need a young corner to fulfill a starting role at some point this season or definitely next.

Why he makes sense for the Broncos

It’s hardly worth stating at this point, but if the Broncos don’t try to make a move up to get a quarterback in the first round - or if they stay at No. 9 and one of their target rookie QBs doesn’t make it that far - there’s a better-than-50-50 chance Denver plans to fortify its defense with its first pick.

And it’s no secret that even though George Paton made some nice moves in free agency to fill in big holes in the secondary - adding Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby to help Bryce Callahan - the cornerback room can never have too much depth. See Broncos 2020 for reference on that.

The Draft Network says Horn’s ideal role is as a boundary corner and ideal fit is a zone scheme with press man duties - a good fit for Fangio.

Earlier this spring on Broncos Country Tonight, Draft Network’s Joe Marino said he’d love to see Broncos take a corner at No. 9, and if it wasn’t his favorite cornerback of the 2021 class - Caleb Farley - he could see Horn in Denver.

“I think Jaycee Horn certainly has a case as well especially when you think of him in a Vic Fangio defense with a lot of press coverage,” Marino said, adding that although Horn isn’t as good of a tackler or have as good of ball skills as some others, he likes him in press-man. “A guy that plays with a lot of confidence, sticky in coverage. He’s a little grabby, but I think that can get coached out of him. What’s missing in his game are ball skills and tackling as a run defender.”

It’s also possible, though no guarantee as his stock has risen over the past month, that Horn could still be acquired later in the first round, so if the Broncos didn’t go QB at No. 9 or earlier, they could get some draft capital by trading down and still possibly get an elite corner like Horn.

Why he doesn’t make sense for Denver

Personally, to me the only reason Horn wouldn’t make sense is if the Broncos chose quarterback in the first round or if they didn’t go quarterback but a couple other potentially generational players at their positions were still on the board, such as Penei Sewell or Micah Parsons.

And even then, I would personally still be tempted to go cornerback.

But putting all draft chess pieces aside, a few of Horn’s tendencies may not be a great fit in Denver, primarily some questions about his tackling ability and his penchant for physicality in coverage (a nice euphemism for “grabby”) to avoid getting penalized for a flag-hungry officials corps.

But his strong showing at South Carolina’s Pro Day and his 77 1/4-inch wingspan will likely make a lot of those concerns disappear.

What others are saying about Jaycee Horn

Joe Marino, The Draft Network

“The son of four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn, South Carolina Gamecocks cornerback Jaycee Horn enters the NFL after three seasons in the SEC where he demonstrated consistent growth. .... Horn has a long and stocky frame that is built for competing with X-receivers in the NFL. His size, length, and physicality show up in coverage where he is highly disruptive in press and ultra competitive at the catch point. The concerns with Horn show up primarily as a tackler and playing off-man coverage. Unfortunately, Horn doesn’t play to his weight class as a tackler and there are too many missed tackles on film. Additionally, Horn can be guilty of guessing when mirroring routes, leading to false steps, which is problematic given how segmented his transitions can be in the first place. If used correctly and with development, Horn can be a quality starter, especially if his ball skills continue to progress as they did in 2020.”

Sam Monson, Pro Football Focus

“A lot of corners get in good position down the sideline where it just becomes a foot race and a physical matchup at the catch point, but Horn is really good at getting position and then slightly leaning on the receiver, often throttling him down so that the ball sails harmlessly overhead. That way, it never becomes a contested catch where anything can happen.

...Against Georgia, he struggled badly to flip his hips to the outside after lining up in off coverage with bail technique facing the field. This is essentially the drill that corners go through each year at the combine, and Horn almost tripped himself up trying to execute the move. That obviously isn’t his baseline, but a relative lack of fluidity with some of his movement shows up.’

...Horn is really good once he has physical contact and control over a receiver. That’s especially true on those deep sideline targets we talked about, but it’s also true on in-breaking routes like digs and drags where he can just maintain contact with a receiver until the ball arrives and then attack the target point. This is Horn’s niche when it comes to coverage.”

Dane Brugler, The Athletic

In Brugler’s annual “The Beast” Draft Guide, he notes Horn’s “NFL bloodlines” and rates him his No.2 corner overall just behind Patrick Surtain II.

“Well-built, long athlete for the position…outstanding compete skills, using every inch of his body to play through the football…his eyes always return to the line of scrimmage to find the football…instinctively sorts through route combinations, often finishing the route path ahead of receivers…flexible hips and agile lower body to mirror-and-match receivers…smooth drive skills on front-facing plays…doesn’t panic with the ball in the air and not shy coming off his man to make a play…looks to mix things up with receivers and his trash-talking and competitive toughness are part of his identity as a player…the coaches say he brought the alpha mentality every day, starting with his first day as a freshman…highly tenacious on the field, but quiet off the field, confessing he isn’t as “flashy” or “boastful” as his father was during his playing days…experienced on special teams coverages…solid ball production with 25 passes defended over 29 starts.”

Final Thoughts

According to Brugler, former Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said Horn’s goal was to “be on the best matchup every week” and then fueled the competitive fire he brought to every game.

That kind of swagger isn’t necessary for some other positions on the football field, but it absolutely is for a cornerback. To me, there are two kinds of cornerback personalities - the Champ Bailey reserved-but-laser-focused-on-shutting-down-everything type of corner and then the Aqib Talib I’m-going-to-whoop-your-ass-and-trash-talk-you-all-game type of corner.

Horn strikes me as the latter of those two and a very effective one. I wouldn’t mind having that in the cornerback room.

Poll

You know the drill...is Jaycee Horn a good CB for the Broncos if available?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Absolutely.
    (137 votes)
  • 40%
    I wouldn’t hate it, but I’d prefer a different corner.
    (137 votes)
  • 19%
    If the QBs are gone...
    (65 votes)
339 votes total Vote Now