When it comes to playing coverage in the NFL, few skill sets are as sought-after as those required to play physical press-man coverage.
Cornerbacks with the size and athleticism necessary to play press-man are some of the rarest prospects in the draft, with some years not having any to speak of. But the ability to effectively take a receiver out of the game with a single defensive back is a big advantage for the defense and can open up a variety of schematic opportunities. Some of the best defenses in recent memory were predicated on having physical press-man cornerbacks who could lock down a receiver while the rest of the defense schemes coverages and pressure packages with greater flexibility.
Because of that, South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn has seen his draft stock skyrocket since the start of the 2020 season. He has gone from being a largely unknown prospect on a bad team to one of the top two corners in the 2021 NFL Draft. Horn likely cemented his status as a top corner with an excellent pro day which confirmed that he has elite athleticism to go with great size and a valuable skill set.
Just how high could he go on draft night?
Prospect: Jaycee Horn
Games Watched: vs. Alabama (2019), vs. Tennessee (2020), vs. Florida (2020), vs. Ole Miss (2020)
Games Played: 30
Tackles For a loss: 7.0
Passes Defensed: 23
Games Played: 7
Tackles For a loss: 1.0
Passes Defensed: 6
Best: Size, length, physicality, athleticism, man coverage, play demeanor
Worst: Zone coverage, block shedding, ball skills
Projection: Starting corner in a man coverage scheme.
South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn is a big, long, physical, athletic, competitive press man corner. Horn has a big frame with good thickness to go with long arms, which lets him match up well in man coverage with big, physical “X” receivers on the outside. He also has the quickness to follow receivers into the slot if necessary.
Horn is at his best playing close to the line of scrimmage in press-man coverage. He uses his length well to disrupt receivers at the start of their routes, while also using solid body positioning to seize inside leverage. He shows a good understanding of field position throughout the route to use the sideline as an extra defender and shrink passing windows. Horn has very quick feet and fluid hips despite being a larger cornerback, and is able to stay in phase with most receivers throughout their routes. He is even able to follow quick receivers through breaks, giving up minimal separation. Horn is very physical at the catch point, excelling at using his length and explosive closing burst to shut passing windows, disrupting the catch by playing through receivers hands.
Horn is also a very confident player with a brash demeanor throughout the game. He shows great competitive toughness in his willingness to match up against any pass catcher and will often chirp in between plays.
Horn is capable of playing in zone coverage with a solid discipline in picking up and passing off receivers, as well as an understanding of passing concepts. However, he doesn’t appear as comfortable as in man coverage and his zone drops look awkward at times. He can have lapses in awareness when playing in zone or off coverage which can lead to receptions in his area of responsibility.
He also lacks good ball production, recording his only interceptions in his final season. Part of this is due to his use in man coverage, which often keeps him from looking in the backfield, but he also needs to improve his ability to track the ball in the air. Horn will also need more discipline in his physicality throughout the route. While more contact is allowed at the collegiate level, Horn has a tendency to be particularly “handsy” and could find himself drawing penalty flags from NFL officials early in his career.
Overall Grade: 9.2 - This prospect has the traits to start immediately in the NFL with a reasonable expectation of Pro Bowl honors early in his career.
Jaycee Horn projects best as a starting outside cornerback in an aggressive defense which primarily uses man, or press-man, coverage schemes.
Horn is not the kind of ballhawk which offenses fear to test, but he has the ability to take most receivers out of the game. His size, physicality, athleticism, and competitive toughness let him match up on almost any receiver, matching strength and speed with big “X” receivers, and quickness with smaller slot receivers.
Horn has enough ability in zone coverage that a defensive coordinator can use it to disguise blitzes on occasion, but Horn will thrive in a defense that lets him match up on a receiver and play him in tight coverage.
Horn’s game is predicated on disrupting receivers early in routes then using his size and athleticism to slam passing windows shut, batting passes to the ground — usually followed by a round of trash talking. Horn is also willing and able to follow receivers across the field. While many corners stick to one side, Horn can play left and right corner, as well as move into the slot if necessary.
Horn’s explosive athleticism also makes him an option for coordinators who like cornerback blitzes. He generally times his rushes well and has good vision for open rushing lanes, while his acceleration lets him get into the backfield before blockers can get in position.
Considering the competitive toughness Horn shows in pass coverage, he could be a better run defender. While he is far from a liability there, he will need to improve his ability to shed blocks and tackle runners with more authority.
Horn wasn’t widely discussed as a top cornerback prospect prior to the 2020 season, but his draft stock has skyrocketed over the course of this abbreviated season and following an excellent pro day. Horn could be the top corner on the board for any team which favors aggressive coverage on the outside.