The New England Patriots are likely losing at least one, if not both, of J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore next offseason, which is why I consider cornerback as the team’s number two need heading into the draft. They don’t necessarily need someone to step in with a healthy secondary, but having another talented corner would allow the Patriots to be even more flexible in their coverage schemes.
One such prospect who could be available for the Patriots is South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn. Horn has similar measurables as former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, but is entering the NFL with a lot less polish than his potential predecessor.
Name: Jaycee Horn
School: South Carolina (Junior)
2020 Stats: 7 games, 16 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 6 PD
Size: 6’1” 205
Expected Draft Range: Top 15
Strengths: Horn plays like a big corner, using his length and athleticism to be very disruptive at the catch point. He has three years of production at cornerback with no fewer than six pass deflections each year. He is also a capable run defender and blitzer, with three career sacks, which could make him appealing to teams above New England in the draft.
When asked to play physical against his man, no other corner in this draft does it better. Horn’s ability to suffocate receivers in press-man is a good fit for the Patriots’ defensive scheme, which generally runs a lot of man coverage unless the game plan calls for it otherwise.
Weaknesses: For as good as Horn is at the things he does well, he does have some concerning issues to sort out. He is great in a press-man scheme like New England’s, but struggles a bit when asked to play zone, off-man, or against combination routes. That bit him against LSU and Terrace Marshall Jr, who was able to beat him with a wheel route from the inside of a bunch formation.
Most of his issues are fixable with the right coaching, though, which I am confident the Patriots can provide.
Why the Patriots should draft him: This is a rare combination where the right talent hits the right scheme. If the Patriots are unable to get their franchise quarterback in the first round of this year’s draft, then I want them to be able to develop an unstoppable pass defense. We have already seen what Bill Belichick can do with a cornerback with similar measurables to Horn, given Gilmore’s four years of strong play in New England so far. While there are more polished CBs in the draft like Caleb Farley and Patrick Surtain II to consider, I think Horn is a guy who could really blossom in New England.
Why the Patriots might not draft him: Horn could easily be the first cornerback off the board if a team falls in love with him. I could see him going as high as Miami at the sixth overall pick, with his likely floor when New England is on the clock at No. 15. Compared to some of the other top CBs in the draft, Horn has a somewhat tougher transition since he’s a bit behind when it comes to playing anything other than press coverage.
Who does he have to beat out: The selection of Horn likely results in Joejuan Williams’ departure in New England, but he will have to compete for a job on the outside nonetheless. Given that Myles Bryant and Jonathan Jones are slot corners, there isn’t much competition for Horn to become the third CB on the outside. Jason McCourty may also be a later addition in free agency should the team miss out on a top corner in the draft, although he would definitely compete with Horn in camp.
2021 role: I have Horn starting the year as the team’s number three boundary corner behind Gilmore and Jackson, barring some future moves. He will also be a possible factor on special teams as a gunner and vice on the punt and punt return units, field goal block team, and on kickoff coverage. He would become a starter when an injury happens. When he is on the field, I see New England playing sides more so than matchups.
2022 and beyond role: With a year in the system, the hope is we see Horn develop into a top-flight cornerback. It will take time for him to recognize routes from bunch and stacked releases, but once he is able to diagnose what his man is doing he should be able to stay glued. In Year Two, he may be asked to defend one side of the field, but by Years Three-Four should be able to play the opposing team’s number one outside receiver.
Consensus: Horn has the ideal measurables to be an elite corner, but has a long way to go in order to realize that potential. His best fit early on is in a press-man scheme, which fits the Patriots very well, with a good coaching staff that can help him improve his deficiencies. Between Horn and Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, Horn has the higher probability to slide down to the 15th overall spot. Despite being a project early on, he has the upside to become one of the game’s best cover corners.