The 49ers have retained a good chunk of their free agents without restrictions during free agency. – notable players, at least. In doing so, they have done a great job of positioning themselves to select the best player available with the No. 12 pick in this upcoming NFL Draft.
Re-signing three potential starters in the secondary could cross the cornerback off the list in the first round, but Jason Verrett and K’Waun Williams signed one-year contracts. The best teams always plan ahead. In this scenario, a prospect of Jaycee Horn’s caliber shouldn’t stop San Francisco from selecting the star cornerback.
Horn had his pro day on Wednesday, where he proved himself a world-class athlete across the board:
Before his pro day, I felt like Horn was the number one cornerback in the class for a number of reasons, specifically, Horn had the fewest weaknesses. It is an easy projection.
For me, Horn is on a level by himself as a cornerback and is one of the top seven players in the NFL Draft. The measurable values and the evidence are there for Horn, as demonstrated above. His production is undeniable.
According to Sports Info Solutions, Horn allowed nine completions on 29 goals for 130 yards. That’s a 31% completion percentage at 4.5 yards per goal in the best conference in college football. That’ll do. Considering that Horn broke eight passes and intercepted two pitches, there’s a lot to like on the surface.
Those numbers are staggering, but just because he tests well and has impressive stats doesn’t mean he translates to the NFL. We see great athletes try well and they don’t work out every year.
So, let’s see what Horn, the player, looks like on what counts: on the field.
Preferred press corner
According to SIS, 50% of Horn’s snapshots were produced in press coverage. He allowed 1.5 yards per snap in men’s coverage, which is third among all draft-eligible cornerbacks. No cornerback had more “total coverage points” per game in men’s coverage than Horn this season. Once again, statistically, he was superb.
In the field, that did not change.
Against Texas A&M, Horn lined up in press coverage against the tight end in the slot, every wide-perimeter receiver and even a wide receiver in a condensed division. The artwork below is what appears to have top-notch movement skills. The speaker is aligned in front of the receiver to the top of the screen:
Too often, even in the NFL, cornerbacks run parallel to receivers and don’t get into position to make a play. Before the deviant crossed the center, Horn had already undermined his route. That is special.
Top cornerbacks at all levels know that if you can’t get to the “low shoulder” of the catcher, then you won’t make a play. Horn does this routinely.
Horn’s 4.39 40-yard run flashes when he’s tasked with chasing receivers across the field, but it’s his patience on the scrimmage line that stands out. There is no panic in Horn’s game. Horn had no trouble turning and running with fast receivers, nor did he give up too early when the smaller, faster, and shifter receivers danced with him down the line.
South Carolina used Horn as a playoff cornerback on third downs. That included lining up in the slot against a tight end against the Aggies and a smaller shapeshifter, Elijah Moore, against the Rebels.
Here’s Horn in the slot lined up against No. 3 catcher Moore at the bottom of the screen. Moore closes the floor between himself and Horn, gives him a false head, but Horn doesn’t move:
Notice how Horn’s weight does not change and his shoulders remain straight. You’ll hear people praising other cornerbacks in this class for being technical. Horn should be mentioned with those cornerbacks.
There are a handful of techniques you can use on the line of scrimmage. Horn, surprisingly, is at his best when he can use his reactive athleticism and technique, as opposed to his length and physique.
Horn allowed 18.6 yards per game during the 2020 season. You don’t have that kind of success without getting in position to make plays with the ball. Before we get to Horn’s ball skills, we need to focus on what got him there. For a guy who weighs 205 pounds, Horn’s transition skills are second to none.
I mentioned weight distribution above. There are no missteps when Horn comes off his break. When you see cornerbacks struggling to change direction, it’s usually because they have too much weight on their back foot. This is not a problem for Horn, as you can see below at the bottom of the screen:
That’s against a future Heisman trophy winner. Horn displays smooth transition skills, closing speed, and a perfectly timed “peanut punch” to release the ball. The ending is not possible without Horn’s rest.
You end up allowing 18 yards per game because, with proper technique and elite closing speed, you are in and out of your breaks in the blink of an eye. Horn’s transition from bottom to bottom of the screen in this work is mind-boggling, and the definition of efficient:
Horn is in position to contest a speed to the limit from out of coverage. Makes it look normal, but that’s unique in every way.
Will being ‘caught’ get in the way?
The biggest complaint when it comes to Horn is that he’s too skilled on the field. The former Gamecock was scored by five penalties last season in 466 plays. Honestly, I never felt that being too clingy was a problem for Horn on the next level.
In ’19, he was flagged for a penalty against Jerry Jeudy that was a joke. On the next play against Elijah Moore, Horn was penalized. How the heck is this a flag?
Horn is looking at the ball and his feet are tangled. That is not something we should worry about.
When I see Horn get his hands on a receiver, it’s to gain influence. He also tells me that he’s in a position, usually on top of the receiver, to get his hands on the receiver. I’ll take the guy who’s aggressive every day of the week.
You can’t name a successful cornerback in the NFL who doesn’t think he’s the most talented person on the planet. This is how they are connected. To excel in the position, that’s the only mindset you need to have. Horn thinks he’s the best defensive player in the draft:
Horn competes on every snap. That is why South Carolina used it in all its defense. There were plays where Horn was used on the line of scrimmage to establish the advantage against the run. In the next series, the Gamecocks would use Horn in the middle of the field as security. Why? Because you know that you will get superior effort from a world-class athlete on every play.
Against Alabama in 2019, Horn could be seen talking trash and facing Jerry Jeudy at the bottom of the screen:
This was the norm. Horn is the alpha dog that transforms your defense. There is no way to quantify an “alpha”. You only recognize one when you see it. You can see the alpha in Horn in every game.
Here’s knocking Kyle Pitts to the ground as you throw your keys on the counter when you get home:
It all comes together on the next play, when Horn smashes through a blocker to help stop on the line of scrimmage against Auburn:
You won’t find another cornerback in this draft with Horn’s competitive nature.
Ball skills galore
Finding the ball when it is in the air is one of the most difficult things a cornerback has to do during a play. You must simultaneously track the flight of the ball in the air while having the spatial awareness to locate your man. All this while you have to twist and run while unbalanced.
Horn’s athleticism is on display when the ball is in the air once again, as his body’s control and calm are on full display. He has no trouble twisting and turning, either in zone coverage when reading quarterbacks’ eyes:
It’s hard not to appreciate Horn’s communication during the previous game.
Too often, according to the press man, I’ve seen Horn run the route for the receiver. Look at the slot receiver at the top of the screen:
Horn’s initial jam knocks the receiver out of his way, and from there, the route ends. He should kick himself for not having intercepted that interception.
Remember how I mentioned reaching the ‘low’ shoulder of the Opens? Horn does it, unlike any other cornerback you’ve seen:
Again, closing speed helps, but the awareness of positioning yourself on the right receiver’s shoulder came in handy in college, and it will only help Horn in the NFL. Everything is effortless, which is promising.
Where are your faults?
I’ve seen people criticize Horn’s tackle or being too grippy in coverage. We already covered the latter. Horn allowed a touchdown on a wheel path from catcher No. 3, where he was eliminated by another receiver. Pitts caught a contested pass on him. In 2019, Horn made a double move that led to a touchdown against Vanderbilt.
Against Auburn, despite forcing eight incomplete passes, interrupting four passes, including one that led to an interception, and having an interception, Seth Williams “crushed” Horn down the field. Horn also gave up a touchdown on a play near the goal line where he was late after passing a route.
Going back to the entry, which I think is exaggerated. Horn missed three tackles all season, according to Sports Info Solutions. One came and missed a “peanut punch.” The other two tackle attempts went awry after Horn lowered his head. “You can’t hit what you can’t see” was the case.
I point to Horn’s use as a blitzer as evidence that tackling won’t be a problem in the NFL. It can close quickly, it’s physical, and when it wants to get somewhere, it does. Here’s Horn defeating two blockers, the left tackle and the running back, on his way to hitting the quarterback:
Vols and Aggie’s games highlight Horn’s will against the race.
For me, Horn’s failures at the university level are not sustainable; therefore, they will not cause you any setback in the NFL. His confidence is palpable. Traits are displayed on each unit and their competitiveness sticks out like a sore thumb.
There aren’t ten better players in this draft than Horn, who has spent this offseason training with a guy named Jalen Ramsey. Knowing that Horn is ready to play out of the box and has the ceiling to be a superstar, there won’t be many, if any, better options at No. 12.