As the NFL approaches the end of the 2020 season, 30 of 32 teams are pouring all of their efforts into gearing up for the 2021 off-season. Most importantly, they are preparing for free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. For the Denver Broncos, this draft represents the first without John Elway serving as general manager since he joined the front office in 2011. His replacement, George Paton, is tasked with evaluating the roster and constructing a draft board with the help of head coach Vic Fangio. Arguably the most glaring hole they will need to fill is at cornerback, where three draftable names, in particular, stand out. If the team wants to fill this hole, they could make Jaycee Horn the next star Denver Broncos cornerback.
How Jaycee Horn Fits as a Future Denver Broncos Cornerback
Current Denver Broncos Cornerbacks
2020 was a peculiar season for the Denver Broncos defense, especially their secondary. They traded for the lucrative contract of A.J. Bouye before the season and drafted rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia in the third round. Ojemudia thoroughly impressed throughout the entirety of the season, accruing 11 starts, 62 tackles, a tackle for loss, six passes deflected, and four forced fumbles. Bouye, on the other hand, was incredibly disappointing, only appearing in seven games due to injuries. He is only eligible to appear in 10 games in 2021 as a result of a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Regarding this alongside his lack of production in 2020 and overvalued contract, it is more than likely Bouye has played his final snap in orange and blue.
Denver Broncos Cornerbacks Entering the Draft
Thankfully, even with the likely departure of Bouye, the Broncos secondary has another veteran cornerback presence rostered. Bryce Callahan, Pro Football Focus’s third-ranked corner, had arguably the best season of his career in 2020. After missing his entire 2019 season with Denver, Callahan managed to earn the reputation of Denver’s best corner. He did so while only appearing in 10 games, like Bouye. Unlike Bouye, however, Callahan is almost assuredly returning as a starting Denver Broncos cornerback next season.
If Bouye is gone, the remainder of the depth chart below Ojemudia leaves a lot to be desired. Free agency and the draft will allow Denver to effectively correct this. With that said, the draft offers a more financially intelligent opportunity to fill the hole at corner than free agency does. Of the rookie cornerbacks available in the 2021 NFL Draft, three names stand out most as possible fits as future Denver Broncos cornerbacks: Caleb Farley, Jaycee Horn, and Patrick Surtain II. This installment will examine Jaycee Horn’s fit with Denver.
Many in Broncos Country consider Horn of South Carolina the rookie best fit for Denver’s scheme. Over 30 games across three seasons as a Gamecock, Horn earned a fair number of respectable statistics. He accrued 101 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and 23 passes deflected. While these numbers compare favorably with Farley, there are several concerns about his game NFL teams will need to scrutinize heavily. This is not to say he is without strengths. Horn—a soon-to-be second-generation NFL athlete—wields a wide array of traits fit for the Broncos and countless other teams.
Standing at six feet and one inch tall and playing at 205 pounds, Horn has above-average size at cornerback. While he played primarily in the slot as a first-year player for South Carolina, he played outside in 2019 and 2020, displaying the versatility to play anywhere in the secondary. Fangio’s creativity in the secondary, especially when injuries are involved, suggest Horn would fit in seamlessly.
He plays with a long, but conflictingly stocky frame, providing excellent physicality for a cornerback. His size and physicality mean Horn matches up well with X-receivers. Horn also excels in press situations, although Vic Fangio outright refuses to employ press coverage even half as much as he needs to.
In addition to physical strengths like the ball skills that allow Horn to effortlessly and consistently attack the ball at the high-point, he supplies mental acuity beyond on-field literacy. Horn received academic honors at South Carolina, illustrating one of the most important traits in a position as mentally demanding as cornerback in his intellect. This suggests he will excel at the professional level in film study and recognizing tendencies in opposing offenses, and also suggests Horn may have a future on the sidelines as a coach or in the front office.
Despite his size, Horn struggled with tackling at South Carolina. He often appeared reluctant to use his frame and density in tackling the way he used it in coverage. As a result, Horn missed far too many tackles. Fangio has repeatedly declared tackling is a non-negotiable skill his defensive backs must all possess. It would take considerable coaching from the staff to help the second-generation athlete refine his tackling.
Horn also guessed on routes far too often, especially in-breaking routes. This guesswork technique allows for comparisons to Marcus Peters, who plays with a boom-or-bust mentality. Like Peters, it seems Horn, when targeted, might offer the options of an interception or a touchdown allowed with little to no middle ground.
While most of Horn’s coverage skills are pro-ready, schematic concerns exist. Unfortunately, Fangio inexplicably refuses to move on from objectively ineffectual cushions and employ an adequate amount of press coverage techniques. Horn’s struggles with off-man coverage and proficiency in press coverage suggest the disconnect may hamper Horn’s ability to thrive in Denver’s defensive scheme as it stands. That said, Horn’s ball skills could compensate for these concerns if covering the slowest and/or biggest wideout on the opposing team.
Like Farley, Horn also opted out of the 2020 season (after playing in seven games), yielding similar concerns as Farley’s.
Jaycee Horn: Future Denver Broncos Cornerback
Jaycee Horn is physically and mentally proactive in gameplay, an immensely important trait for cornerbacks at the pro level. He has great hand-fighting skills and good physicality in coverage, which would help against stronger, bigger wideouts. The young corner is also surprisingly light on his feet for a man of his size. Combined with adequate closing speed when breaking on routes and surprisingly hip fluidity for a man with his frame, Horn is an intriguing prospect. Despite widely held belief, his tape suggests he has surprising speed to match up with more dynamic wideouts. Nonetheless, he would succeed best against big-framed pass-catchers.
He projects well in Fangio’s scheme (which relies on mental acuity, physicality, and versatility) for the most part. His zone coverage and ball skills are immense. The intellect he exhibits suggests he could become a true plug-and-play starter in the secondary. The success Fangio and Donatell had in coaching Michael Ojemudia to starter-level quality of play would bode well for Horn.
When a team plays in the same division as quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes II and Justin Herbert, the secondary is integral to success. This is without even mentioning the assembly of elite and talented skill players around these quarterbacks in the AFC West. Denver has failed to truly keep up with these offenses since winning Super Bowl 50. Their record over these five seasons is reflective of struggles to defend players like Tyreek Hill and Keenan Allen, a direct indictment on the secondary and coaching staves.
The Last Word
Fangio is entering his third season with the Broncos, and this year is truly make-or-break for the coach. The team indeed has myriad holes on both sides of the ball. Even so, cornerback is arguably the most urgent to fill this off-season. If the Broncos hope to become competitive in the West again, they will need to contain two of the most explosive offenses in football. They will also need to adequately defend another that appears ready to take that next step. Drafting a cornerback and using free agency to fill other holes seems like the most effective option.
Should the Broncos opt to draft a cornerback in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Jaycee Horn is not a bad choice. He just may be the game-changer the secondary has lacked since the days of the No-Fly Zone. His athleticism, immense ball skills, and proficiency in zone coverage make him an ideal fit for Fangio’s zone-based scheme. The team nearly set a franchise record for fewest takeaways in a season this year, so a playmaker like Horn could be the missing puzzle piece.
If Jaycee Horn is a future Denver Broncos cornerback, he is likely to excel. Depending on what Paton and Fangio identify in his game, the chances Horn finds himself in orange and blue are high.
And boy, would Broncos Country enjoy seeing that.
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