Name: Jaycee Horn
Weight: 205 lbs
2020 Stats: 7 games, 16 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 interceptions, 6 passes defensed
Much of the conversation around the cornerback class in this draft has centered on the perceived top two - Caleb Farley and Patrick Surtain II. But South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn has emerged as the favorite to come off the board after those two.
Horn is the son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn, whose 12-year career with the Chiefs, Saints, and Falcons produced four Pro Bowl selections and one incredibly memorable touchdown celebration. Much like the aforementioned Surtain, who also grew up with a former NFL player for a dad, South Carolina’s Horn has been groomed for football his whole life.
Horn was a starter in the slot in his freshman year for the Gamecocks, and he recorded 45 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, and eight passes defensed. He moved outside the next year and tallied 40 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, nine passes defensed, and forced two fumbles. Entering his junior season in 2020, Horn was starting to flash a lot of growth as a cover corner, but he opted out midway through the season when his head coach was fired. Now, Horn is hoping to set himself apart in the draft process.
Man Coverage: It’s going to be a common thread throughout this report, so let’s just get it out of the way now: aggressive may be too tame of a term for Horn’s game. He thrives on being aggressive, and it shows up in man coverage. When Horn gets to press receivers off the line he looks unstoppable. He’s strong and decisive in hitting his guy, although Horn often takes it too far and gets overly physical. It’s unlikely he’ll get away with that much contact in the NFL. Conversely, Horn is a little more inconsistent when playing off-man coverage. He seems to rely on the contact to stick with his man instead of mirroring the route, so if he’s not pressing the receiver he can get lost against better route runners.
Zone Coverage: It’s a bit of a Catch-22 here, because Horn’s lack of mirroring instincts suggest he’s a better zone defender, which is mostly accurate; Horn is very good at maintaining his spacing while reading the quarterback, and plays with good anticipation in zone. However, it also takes away his best trait, his physicality. Horn really thrives on that aspect of the game, so dropping him into zone minimizes those opportunities. To that end, though, he does figure to slot nicely into Dan Quinn’s scheme, which typically runs press man coverage and deep thirds zone coverage.
Playmaking Ability: Horn is aggressive in all phases of the game, and that’s especially true when the ball is in the air. If Horn has a shot at the ball, he’s doing everything he can to get his hands on it. Problem is, Horn isn’t exceptionally great at securing the ball - he didn’t record an interception until his 27th career game at South Carolina - and he can often maul the receiver in the process. He appeared to be getting better in this area before opting out, but it’s an area he’ll need to really work on at the next level.
Athleticism: Horn’s athleticism is a microcosm of his overall profile: teeming with raw talent, but largely unrefined. He’s got plenty of athleticism, and has the speed to keep up with just about anyone he’s covered, but poor techniques limit what he can do. The footwork gets clunky at times, and Horn’s inconsistent pad level gets him into trouble too. But when he gets going and hits that extra gear, Horn can really go.
Run Support: Here’s the most befuddling part of Horn’s game to me. In 2018, he played out of the slot and showed a consistent tackler with potential as a blitzer. That tape suggests his best fit in the NFL is out of the slot. But the next two years, where Horn played outside, it seemed as if he forgot how to tackle well. Horn takes bad angles, fails to wrap up consistently, and just looks uninterested. Moreover, that aggression that pops up everywhere else seems to be absent when Horn is needed in run support. It would be less confusing if he hadn’t already shown his talent as a run defender in 2018, but either way it’s an issue.
Processing: Horn is a very instinctual player, and that shows up a lot on film. He generally has a good idea of what’s going on and diagnoses plays with great speed. But there are times where his instincts betray him, and he ends up running himself out of the play. As is the case for other areas of his game, Horn needs a bit more discipline here, but he’s right more than not.
Toughness: Aggressive, aggressive, aggressive. In case you missed it, Horn is an aggressive guy, sometimes to a fault. He’s unafraid of getting up in a receiver’s grill, and plays with that kind of mentality; he and Donovan Wilson would be best friends in Dallas. As mentioned, that seems to go away in run support, which is confusing, but Horn is a baller in coverage.
Intangibles: Scouts will have a lot of questions for Horn regarding his decision to opt-out during the season instead of before it began. Horn announced his decision the day after South Carolina fired their head coach, and later comments referring to the team’s poor play didn’t sound great. He already received a lot of fan backlash over it at the time, with accusations that he quit on the team, so that will be a concern in the back of many scouts’ minds.