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Monson: Why South Carolina's Jaycee Horn isn't a first-round cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft

Athens, GA, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive back Israel Mukuamu (24) reacts with defensive back Jaycee Horn (1) after intercepting a pass against the Georgia Bulldogs during the first overtime at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn is many people’s pick to be the first cornerback selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. As the predraft process has worn on, he has gone from a player being selected on average toward the bottom of the first round to one who is now typically slated to go in the first half of Round 1, according to PFF’s Mock Draft Simulator. He is vying with Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II to be known as the best corner in the draft, but I think that overvalues him significantly.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Horn is a good player. When I built my draft profile on him from his college tape, I saw the same things everybody else did — a player who excels in press-man coverage. But compared to somebody like Surtain, I think Horn is lacking in some areas — ones that have become ever-more important in today’s NFL.

Everybody falls in love with an aggressive press-man skill set. It’s probably the most aesthetically pleasing way of playing cornerback, and it’s a lot easier to see when a guy screws up or gets it right. The problem is that man coverage isn’t as prevalent as it once was in the NFL.

Some teams used to virtually never come out of man coverage. You can’t get away with that in today’s NFL because offenses have become too good at attacking pure man coverage. You can’t sit in the same zone shell, either, for exactly the same reasons. Every NFL defense now needs to play a little bit of everything. The percentages vary from team to team, and there are obviously still variations on that theme, but even the league's most man-heavy defenses last season ran man coverage less than 50% of the time. Not all of those man coverage snaps will have the No. 1 corner in a press position, either. The thing that Horn is best at is a smaller part of the NFL than it was in his college role.

My biggest concern with Horn is how well he changes direction and moves in space — essentially, how fluid his hips are. The most concerning tape I saw from him in college was against Alabama (and its absurd receiving corps) in 2019. Horn earned just a 40.2 PFF coverage grade that game, which was the worst mark of his college career.


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