Photo courtesy of South Carolina athletics

With the eighth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers selected Jaycee Horn, cornerback, South Carolina.

With the first major surprise in the draft, the Panthers chose Horn over Patrick Surtain II, Justin Fields, Micah Parsons, and Rashawn Slater among others. They will look to Horn to become their first lockdown corner since Josh Norman in 2015.

The Journey

A son of former four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn, Jaycee grew up with a love for football. Coming out of Alpharetta, Ga., Horn was rated as a four-star cornerback when he committed to South Carolina. As a true freshman, Horn earned the starting nickel cornerback role to start the season. Coaches selected him to the Freshman All-SEC team.

As a sophomore, Horn transitioned to outside cornerback. He was often left on an island and was hardly targeted, as opposing quarterbacks chose to attack the opposite side of the field instead. Horn started all 12 games and led the team with nine pass breakups.

In 2020, Horn emerged as one of the elite cornerbacks in college football. He matched up against Seth Williams on Week 7 and won the battle, snagging his first collegiate interception and adding another one. Toward the end of the season, a member of Horn’s family tested positive for COVID-19, around the same time that head coach Will Muschamp was fired from South Carolina. Horn decided to opt out for the remainder of the season.

Horn’s Pro Day helped him rise up draft boards. He ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and jumped 41.5 inches vertically. The Panthers fell in love with Horn and took him eighth overall on Thursday night, fearing that he would be gone if they traded back.

Analysis

In 2018, the Panthers needed a wide receiver. Calvin Ridley, an Alabama product, was the consensus top receiver available.

The Panthers, however, went a different route. They took D.J. Moore. Hopefully for Carolina, this decision to buck the consensus top guy will work out similarly. Like Moore, Horn tested better athletically than the consensus No. 1 guy, who had elite Alabama teammates surrounding him.

Ridley is a great receiver, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Patrick Surtain II become a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback. The Panthers, however, got their guy. Horn will be a lockdown cornerback in the NFL.

With A.J. Bouye suspended for the first two games of the season, Horn will likely start on the outside, opposite of Donte Jackson. When Bouye returns, Horn may slide inside to nickel or may force Jackson to make the transition.

Horn’s selection has other implications. Sam Darnold is the future of the Carolina Panthers.

They want to help Darnold reach his potential as an NFL quarterback. Even though they have yet to do so, expect the Panthers to pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option after the draft concludes.