A 4-star recruit out of high school, Jaycee Horn received offers from some of the best programs in the nation; schools like Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Ohio State vied to secure his talents, but, ultimately, it was South Carolina that earned his signature.
“South Carolina was the best fit for me,” said Horn on his decision to sign with the Gamecocks. And how right he was. He would end his freshman season with 10 starts in 11 games, and earned SEC All-Freshman honors.
From there, Horn didn’t look back. After an equally impressive sophomore season, all eyes were on the corner as the Gamecocks geared up for the 2020 season.
Though he impressed individually, registering some of the best defensive performances in college football as a junior (his outing against Auburn was perhaps the single best game of any corner this past season), South Carolina struggled to get the ball rolling. With their record sitting at 2-5 midway through the season, the Gamecocks dismissed head coach Will Muschamp of this duties, which prompted Horn to opt out of the remainder of the season to focus on the Draft.
With his career at South Carolina now in the books, I decided to dive deep into what makes Horn such an exciting prospect for NFL defenses.
Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina (Jr.)
6-foot-1, 205 pounds
Strengths: Horn’s father, Joe, earned four Pro Bowl nods as a wide receiver in his NFL career. It should come as no surprise, then, that the corner displays natural ball skills. He’s routinely able to locate the ball in flight and position himself to make a play, whether that means breaking up passes or coming down with the ball himself. Horn totaled a pedestrian two interceptions and 6 pass deflections this past season, but that wasn’t for lack of effort — teams were just smart enough not to throw his way.
Horn is an impressive athlete, combining loose hips with light feet to stay locked to his assignments in coverage. Though there were some concerns regarding Horn’s straight line speed, he recently registered a blazing 4.39 in the 40-yard dash, according to ESPN’s Matt Miller. Combine numbers don’t always translate to on-field quickness and burst, but Horn’s time should go a long way in dispelling any myths regarding his inability to stay tight to his man downfield.
Man coverage is Horn’s bread and butter. His suddenness, twitch and polished first step at the snap of the ball make him very difficult to beat off the line. He has strong hands that he uses to jam receivers off of their breaks, and his solid frame means that he’s rarely presented with a physical mismatch.
Though he primarily lines up as a boundary corner, he showed the ability to work as a nickelback in the Gamecocks’ system. His blend of size and fluid athleticism make him physical enough to take on X receivers outside, and a good enough athlete to match receivers in the slot. That kind of versatility is rare to find.
Weaknesses: The word “grabby” came to mind when watching Horn’s tape. Whether it be at the snap of the ball, at the top of the route stem, or at the catch point, Horn often uses his hands to disrupt his matchup’s flow. His aggressive coverage technique earned him his fair share of flags at South Carolina. If he’s to enjoy a long career in the NFL, where he’ll be covering receivers that run sharper routes, are quick enough to create more separation, and experienced enough to know how to draw flags, this is a tendency he’ll have to learn to reel in quickly.
For as good as Jaycee Horn is in coverage, he has shown to be an unreliable tackler. Horn displays willingness to initiate contact, but very rarely wraps up and follows through in his tackle attempts, leading to more YAC opportunities for opposing ball carriers.
Scheme fit: A man-heavy scheme would provide Jaycee Horn with the best opportunity to succeed. He shines in press and off-man, so being inserted into a defense that prioritizes man-to-man coverage will allow Horn to do what he does best: neutralize the other team’s best weapon.
Team fit: We don’t yet know whether Horn has met virtually with any of his potential landing spots in the 2021 NFL Draft, but there’s little doubt that the corner will be seen as a potential Day 1 selection for any team needing to bolster their secondary. Horn could easily find his way into the top 10 if the Denver Broncos (No. 9 pick) or the Dallas Cowboys (No. 10) favor him over the draft’s other top corner prospects.
I see Horn landing with the Arizona Cardinals (No. 16 overall). The Cards ranked 22nd in PFF’s final secondary rankings for the 2020 season, and with stalwart cornerback Patrick Peterson potentially testing out free agency, an injection of youth in the defensive unit could be just what the doctor ordered.