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Giants 2021 draft: Could they really select a cornerback at No. 11?

Yes, and there is a surprisingly solid explanation for why that wouldn’t be a bad idea

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NCAA Football: South Carolina at Florida
Jaycee Horn
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Would the New York Giants really select a cornerback at No. 11 in the 2021 NFL Draft?

After the Giants signed Adoree’ Jackson to a three-year, $39 million contract ($24.5 million guaranteed) yours truly more or less dismissed the possibility. After all the Giants are paying Jackson a lot of money. They are paying James Bradberry a lot of money, as well, and he had a Pro Bowl season in 2020. They have slot cornerback Darnay Holmes and several safeties who can slide out and cover from the slot.

And yet ... maybe I was hasty in simply taking cornerback off the board at No. 11.

After all, I have said many times over the years that a team can never have enough quality cornerbacks. On the outside, the Giants have Bradberry and Jackson. Some, though, aren’t sure Jackson will prove to be worth the money the Giants paid him. Bradberry is signed for two more years, and the Giants could save $13.5 million against the salary cap if they were to move on from him a season from now.

While that seems unthinkable right now, assistant GM Kevin Abrams did say on Tuesday that “next year could be a little bit of a challenge” cap-wise unless the salary cap rises after dropping in 2020 from $198.2 million to $182.5 million.

Plus, when you really examine it the Giants don’t appear to have a truly reliable third cornerback.

Sam Beal? Please. He has played in six games since the Giants took him the 2018 Supplemental Draft. Honestly, I will be surprised if he makes the roster. Isaac Yiadom? He started 10 games last season, but the Giants largely protected him by playing more soft zone than we believe Patrick Graham would have liked. Julian Love? The fan base loves him. Patrick Graham came to appreciate him last year. If the Giants really believed in him, though, would guys like Jackson, Holmes and safety Xavier McKinney be on the roster?

So, sure, there is an argument to be made that there is a bigger need for another cover cornerback than might appear obvious at first blush.

General manager Dave Gettleman also said something intriguing about Jackson during his Tuesday media availability. Gettleman said the former Tennessee Titan has “inside-outside flex,” meaning that he can play in the slot. Jackson, per Pro Football Focus, has played 308 of 3,119 NFL snaps (9.9 percent) in the slot.

What about Holmes? The Giants like the 2020 fourth-round pick and Holmes had a reasonably good rookie season. Still, when he returned from a Week 13 knee injury for the final two games, he appeared to have been bypassed on the depth chart by McKinney, with the Giants using three safeties and dropping McKinney into the slot.

Gettleman often says he isn’t afraid to draft over someone to create competition. On Tuesday, Gettleman said “you can never have too many good players at any position, I don’t care what anybody says.”

Many draft prospect boards have some combination of Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II of Alabama and Jaycee Horn of South Carolina as the top three defensive players in the draft.

There has been increasing speculation over the past couple of weeks among NFL draft insiders that cornerback is one of the many possibilities that remain in play for the Giants at No. 11.

In his most recent mock draft, the well-connected Peter Schrager of NFL Network chose Horn at No. 11 for the Giants. Schrager’s explanation for the selection of Horn implies, at least when I read it, that his pick is more than a simple wild guess.

Don’t be shocked if the Giants go cornerback here. Yes, they have Adoree’ Jackson and James Bradberry on the roster, but you can never have enough top-level CBs. Horn is viewed as just that. Giants fans may bristle at the team taking a corner over a WR, OT or pass rusher — but I would not be surprised at all if it’s Patrick Surtain or Horn.

Appearing this week on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, Pro Football Network draft analyst Tony Pauline said cornerback “is still a need” for the Giants and they could “absolutely” use the 11th pick on Surtain or Horn.

“In this day and age where balls are flying in the NFL and it’s a passing game you better have bigger, physical cornerbacks to stop opponents,” Pauline said. “Adoree’ Jackson isn’t a big cornerback. He never was, he’s never going to be, where Surtain and Jaycee Horn fill that need. So, again, I don’t know about a developmental guy, but if you can get a shutdown, lockdown type of corner with that selection ... then you absolutely have to look at cornerback.”

Pauline echoed a common refrain about the two top-ranked cornerbacks — that Surtain is more polished right now, but Horn’s athletic gifts may give him the higher ceiling.

“I think Jaycee Horn is right there with Patrick Surtain,” Pauline said. “Surtain’s better right now. I think down the road Horn could be better.”

Dane Brugler of The Athletic has Surtain as his 10th-ranked prospect and Horn as No. 14.

Of Surtain, Brugler writes:

With his movements, body range and ball skills, Surtain plays sticky coverage and doesn’t panic downfield, consistently staying balanced and in phase. While he is athletic and false steps are infrequent, he lacks suddenness in his movements, giving explosive receivers a chance to separate early. Overall, Surtain lacks elite play strength and twitch for the position, but he is smooth, instinctive and the game happens slower for him than most cornerbacks. He projects as an NFL starting-level press-man corner with Pro Bowl potential.

Of Horn, Brugler writes:

With his length and athleticism, Horn matches up well vs. size and he shows more ownership for the catch point than most receivers, displaying improved route recognition the last three seasons. While his aggressive nature is a strength to his game, it also works against him at times – he is the type of corner who immediately finds the official after each play to make sure no flags were thrown (five penalties in seven games in 2020). Overall, Horn needs to refine his discipline and finishing skills, but he is a long, agile athlete with outstanding instincts, bloodlines and competitive mentality. He projects as an NFL starting press-man corner in the Aqib Talib mold.

Big Blue View’s Chris Pflum is an unabashed Horn backer. In a mock draft throwdown with Nick Falato and Joe DeLeone, Chris selected Horn. In making the pick, he wrote “... I think Horn is being overlooked by the draft community at large. He has great size, 4.3 speed, and is one of the most physical cornerbacks I’ve seen in some time. That speed and physicality and his play demeanor would give the Giants’ defense a dimension it hasn’t had in a long time.”

Chris, Nick and Joe debated prospects, including Surtain vs. Horn, in a recent podcast you can listen to here:

In his prospect profile of Horn, Chris wrote:

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.

If the Giants select a cornerback, it’s easy to see them going for the certainty of Surtain. That is especially true because of the Alabama connection the Giants have and the information on Surtain they could glean from it. There is, though, a valid case for Horn.

Here is one final bullet point for Horn’s resume:

Other names to know

The draft, of course, is more than one round. Here are some cornerbacks the Giants could consider in later rounds.

Free-agent loss: Ryan Lewis
Free-agent additions: Adoree’ Jackson, Joshua Kalu, Chris Milton
Current roster: Sam Beal, James Bradberry, Darnay Holmes. Jarren Williams, Quincy Wilson, Madre Harper, Adoree’ Jackson, Joshua Kalu, Chris Milton