Auburn has been disappointing through the first four weeks of college football. They’re a deceptive 2-2 (they should have lost to Arkansas last week), cannot generate movement in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and don’t have a functional passer at quarterback in Bo Nix. The only hope they have of a passing game comes from true junior wide receiver Seth Williams, a 225-pound bully on the outside who wins on contested balls. Williams beat up on a small defensive back room in Kentucky earlier in the year, and against South Carolina, found further success above the rim.
That corner underneath Williams? That’s South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn. A three-year starter, Horn knows that players like Williams usually get one like that a game; there’s nothing you can do but try and win the next rep.
Horn didn’t just win the next rep; he won the rest of them.
Horn followed Williams for most of the game and bullied the bully—no two ways about that. At a listed 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Horn has NFL size and NFL bloodlines—he’s the son of longtime Saints wide receiver Joe Horn—and his best trait for NFL circles is his physicality. When Horn faces quickness and speed at wide receiver, he can get exposed, as was the case when he dealt with Florida’s speedy wide receiver room. But against a player of Williams’ mold, Horn demonstrated exactly that which NFL teams will buy when they draft Horn come April: a press coverage alpha for whom no assignment is too big.
As scout Joe Marino said of his game:
Horn is an appealing NFL prospect because he has the physical traits needed to match up with "X" receivers at the next level. With him set to face Auburn wide receiver Seth Williams on Saturday, it was the perfect showcase game to prove his ability to take away an alpha receiver with size, ball skills, and physicality. Horn aced the test and shut down Williams. His competitive demeanor, ball skills, and man coverage ability were on full display. It was a resume game for Horn that certainly gave his draft stock a boost.
Horn famously had no interceptions coming into the contest, which makes sense for a physical corner who wins in press-man coverage: his game is in denying throwing windows and discouraging targets, not baiting throws and then closing in on the football.
But Horn got an interception doing exactly that against Auburn, understanding his scramble drill rules in zone coverage to close down on a crossing route in time with the throw, cutting off the receiver, and making an easy catch. While Horn isn’t a prototypical zone coverage corner in his build or physical tools, experience helps smooth over the rough edges, and Horn is a detailed, veteran college corner who has begun to uncover his playmaking instinct.
Horn pulled in another pick on an errant throw and created a third by breaking up a pass that was caught off the deflection. On the day, Horn would end up with six passes defended, feasting on the tight window throws that Nix was forcing up to Williams and regularly beating Williams to the catch point. He killed a goal-line fade and buried a critical third-down throw in the red zone which led to a heated argument between Williams and Nix. Horn and his fellow starting CB John Dixo, saw a whopping 22 targets on the day and only allowed six completions, two of which came in Horn's coverage. In his words:
And when Horn signs that check on draft day, he should send a fruit basket to Nix and Williams. It was the structure of their passing attack that let Horn demonstrate his particular skill set, which was valuable enough to push South Carolina above Auburn for the first time in more than a half-century. Horn still comes with his limitations, still profiles best against a particular receiver, and still deserves scrutiny beyond just this game. But boy, this was one of the biggest paydays for a 2021 NFL Draft hopeful that we’ve seen in this young season. Horn needed to dominate a matchup like this to have value in the NFL, and dominate he did.