The 2021 cornerback class is fairly enigmatic, but there is an established trio of talent at the top of the board. One of Patrick Surtain II, Caleb Farley, or South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn will earn the CB1 mantle in the 2021 NFL Draft. Here’s why Horn might be the first cornerback off the board. And if not, why he’ll still be picked earlier than most.
Jaycee Horn NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 205 pounds
School: South Carolina
Current Year: Junior
NFL-caliber genetics tend to be passed on. Jaycee Horn was a beneficiary in this case. His father not only played NFL football, but played for over a decade, and earned Pro Bowl recognition four times as a wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints. Horn brings that same athletic talent, but on the other side of the ball.
Coming out of Alpharetta, Georgia, Horn was a four-star prospect in the 2018 recruiting class. Horn’s talent was visible even then. The future South Carolina cornerback was the 145th-ranked player in the nation on ESPN’s board, and he had offers from Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Ohio State, among others. Horn could’ve been the next product of the NFL factories in Columbus and Tuscaloosa. But instead, he decided to forge his own path, as a member of the Gamecocks.
Jaycee Horn’s career as a South Carolina cornerback
Some players need an acclimation period when making the transition to college football. Jaycee Horn didn’t. As a true freshman playing in the SEC, Horn started 10 of 11 possible games. In the process, he logged 45 total tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, and eight pass deflections. He was a freshman All-SEC selection for his efforts, and he carried that production into 2019.
As a true sophomore, Horn continued to distinguish himself as one of the best cornerbacks in one of the best conferences. The South Carolina cornerback started all 12 games for the Gamecocks, amassing 40 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, nine pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. Despite this production, Horn didn’t earn All-SEC honors. However, he continued to draw attention from NFL scouts. On top of his success on the field, he also earned academic honors off of it.
Horn’s final season with the Gamecocks
Horn came into 2020 as a rising star in the SEC, and his junior season cemented his status. Horn again served as a full-time starter for South Carolina. In seven games, the disruptive defender notched 16 tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions, and six pass deflections. Horn was named as an All-SEC second-team honoree, at last earning a spot at the top of the conference.
After making a strong impression early, Horn opted out for the remainder of the 2020 season in mid-November, turning his full attention to the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing Jaycee Horn’s NFL Draft profile
Cornerback can be one of the most mentally challenging positions in football. Every player has a lot on their plate on any given snap, but cornerbacks and wide receivers are naturally placed on islands. Thus, the battles on the boundaries become subsets of mental warfare. Players who are aggressive, on top of being more physically proactive, can get in their opponent’s headspace. South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn has this ability.
Horn is one of the most physical, aggressive cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft. The South Carolina cornerback has a long, lean build, and uses his length both at the line and in coverage. He’s not shy when attacking his opponents in press coverage, and his aggressive nature also shows up at the catch point, where he doesn’t hesitate to impact the ball.
Horn couples a proactive mentality with good coordination and ultra-efficient hand usage. This not only allows him to disrupt receivers’ timing, but it also makes him a true playmaker in the presence of the ball.
Of course, it’s one thing to have the skills in contact. It’s another thing entirely to have the athletic traits to be in position. Luckily, Horn brings the necessary athletic tools as well.
Horn isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s near that end of the spectrum. His hip flips are fluid, and he has good explosiveness out of those flips. He also has the lateral quickness to close back in on in-breaking routes, and he has the speed to match most receivers downfield. He’s very light on his feet out of his stance, and he has the short-range burst to maximize his playmaking window, as well as the vertical ability to rise up for contested passes.
Are there any concerns with Horn?
Jaycee Horn is an exceptional athlete with a fearless mentality and excellent ball skills. Naturally, there are going to be more positives than negatives with a prospect like this. Having said that, there are a couple of areas where Horn can further refine his game at the next level.
Horn’s physicality can get him into trouble at times. He’s much more refined than one would expect an ultra-physical defensive back to be. However, he’ll need to be extra diligent in the NFL with his physicality, because it doesn’t always take much to get a pass interference or holding call. Additionally, Horn can improve his consistency as a tackler, but taking into account his dense frame, solid length, and closing speed, he has the tools to progress there.
Overall, Horn is an athletic, physical, and — most importantly — a proactive defensive back. He’s also smart, smooth, and maintains good positioning in zone coverage. There aren’t many bad things to say about Horn. Thus, he’ll most certainly be an early pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Jaycee Horn’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Before the 2020 season, it was possible that Jaycee Horn would slip out of the first round in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, his stellar junior campaign has almost entirely expunged that possibility. The 2021 cornerback class lacks inspiring depth, and even at the top, some teams might not be as high on Caleb Farley, who took the 2020 season off and also has an injury history.
Horn is one of the most complete cornerback prospects in the 2021 class, and he also brings a number of traits to an uncommonly high degree, most notably, his physicality. Horn is a player who can be generally scheme-diverse and versatile at the cornerback position. His athletic upside only solidifies his status as a first-round pick. It’s very unlikely that he falls outside the Top 32 picks, and it’s almost more likely that he goes within the first half of Round 1.
Which teams mesh with Jaycee Horn’s range and skill set?
Teams looking for a cornerback in Round 1 would be unwise not to consider Horn. Patrick Surtain II might be the more popular pick as CB1, but Horn has a case for that title as well. Nevertheless, relegating Horn’s range to mid-to-late Round 1, teams like the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Las Vegas Raiders, and Indianapolis Colts present good matches. However, a team like Denver or Dallas could snag him if they value him highly enough.
Lockdown cornerbacks are in short supply, and in general, even the term itself is over-used. But Jaycee Horn, while not yet at that level, has some of the defining traits of a lockdown cornerback. He’s athletic, he’s lengthy, and he’s incredibly proactive when it comes to disrupting the pass catcher and the pass itself.