After a blistering free-agency attack last week, the New England Patriots begin turning their attention more fully to the 2021 NFL Draft next month.
While many experts believe the team is still very interested in selecting a top quarterback, if possible, they’ve also recently spent time checking out another elite prospect at a different position of need.
Patriots position coaches attended South Carolina’s Pro Day on Wednesday to get a closer look at cornerback Jaycee Horn, a top-three corner prospect in this year’s draft class, according to Senior Bowl executive and former Pats scout Jim Nagy.
Jaycee Horn Pro Day numbers (vs. Combine percentiles) via @JamesPalmerTV— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 24, 2021
HT: 6-0 (68th percentile)
WT: 205 (90th percentile)
Arms: 33” (93rd percentile)
40: 4.39 (84th percentile)
Vert: 41.5” (96th percentile)
Broad: 11’1” (96th percentile)
Bench: 19 (86th percentile)
The soon-to-be-former Gamecock put on a show for scouts, posting a blazing 4.37 40-yard dash and jumping off the screen in the vertical and broad jump drills. Those numbers are all the more impressive given Horn’s 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame, casting him as the prototypical NFL cornerback in terms of his athletic profile.
The three-year starter earned All-SEC second-team honors last year despite opting out midway through the 2020 season. He only had two career interceptions in college — both came last year against Auburn — but he did record 23 career pass breakups, including six in last season’s limited action.
“Horn can line up in any cover scheme and often traveled with the opponent’s most talented target,” writes NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein. “He needs more consistent effort in run support, but the traits and upside are extremely appealing despite a lack of high-end ball production. Horn offers immediate starting help with a high upside.”
That last piece of information could resonate with the Patriots given their uncertainty at the cornerback position in both the immediate and near future.
Stephon Gilmore, though currently still on the roster, may not be in New England much longer. He’s been the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason, though the team reportedly “isn’t actively shopping him” to other teams at the moment.
Plus, the Patriots will soon have a decision to make on restricted free agent J.C. Jackson, their leader in interceptions from last year. New England has offered Jackson a second-round tender for this coming year, which he has yet to officially sign. Unless the team extends him on their own or matches a potential offer sheet presented to Jackson by another team, the former undrafted free agent could hit the open market next year.
Horn might be in line for a rise up the draft boards following his Pro Day performance and the news that fellow first-round cornerback prospect Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech underwent back surgery this week, creating doubts about his health. Horn may not be available with the No. 15 overall pick, as he was when NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah mocked him to the Patriots last month, if his stock rises any further.
But if he is there, Horn projects as a possible replacement for the likes of Gilmore and Jackson at the position with the ability to become much more.
“There just aren’t many corners in this league who have his traits and his man-cover talent,” said an NFC executive of Horn. “I think he’s got a chance to be special.”
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