Should 49ers target Jaycee Horn over Patrick Surtain II in NFL Draft?

Jaycee Horn #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Jaycee Horn #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The 49ers could easily grab a cornerback with their top pick in the NFL Draft, and some argue Jaycee Horn is a better target than Patrick Surtain II.

The San Francisco 49ers‘ moves in free agency helped whittle down the list of possibilities for general manager John Lynch’s first pick, No. 12 overall, in the 2021 NFL Draft.

After bringing aboard center Alex Mack and re-signing left tackle Trent Williams, one can safely assume a first-round offensive lineman is off the table. Retaining strong safety Jaquiski Tartt suggests the Niners probably won’t go after one of the two projected first-round safeties either, TCU’s Trevon Moehrig or UCF’s Richie Grant.

Despite San Francisco re-signing corners Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley, K’Waun Williams and Dontae Johnson, it’s still quite possible Lynch and Co. are looking at cornerbacks with their top pick.

Especially considering three of those four are back solely on one-year deals.

For some time now, Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II has been in hot discussion as the 49ers’ top pick in April’s draft. In recent weeks, however, South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn has risen into the discussion along with Surtain and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley to be the top at his position drafted this spring.

Former NFL defensive back and Crocker Report founder Eric Crocker is a fan of the Niners taking Horn at No. 12. So is Niners Nation’s Kyle Posey, and Posey broke down the reasoning:

"There aren’t ten better players in this draft than Horn, who has spent this offseason training with some guy named Jalen Ramsey. Knowing Horn is ready to play right away and has the ceiling to be a superstar, there won’t be many, if any, better options at No. 12."

Jaycee Horn Defense & Fumbles Table
TacklesDef IntFumbles
*2018South CarolinaSECFRDB113015454.02.0000800
2019South CarolinaSECSODB122911402.01.0000902
2020South CarolinaSECJRDB7106161.00.023417.00600
CareerSouth Carolina69321017.03.023417.002302

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Generated 3/25/2021.

OK, so what if both Horn and Surtain are available at No. 12? What would San Francisco do next if it truly wanted a cornerback?

49ers to choose Jaycee Horn over Patrick Surtain II?

Most big boards label Surtain as the No. 2 corner in this year’s draft class with Farley being No. 1.

Prior to Horn’s pro day, it wasn’t uncommon to see him tabbed in the second half of Round 1 picks. Yet Horn’s pro-day efforts were awfully exemplary:

That 4.39 40-yard time is worthy of notice. His elite-level speed along with good size means he can keep up with faster receivers he’ll face within the NFC West, namely the Seattle Seahawks’ D.K. Metcalf and Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins, and the physicality shows up all over the place, too.

As Posey pointed out, Horn can get a bit grabby and overly physical, which could result in an uptick in defensive pass-interference calls at the NFL level.

At the same time, though, finding an aggressive defensive back is never a bad thing. And it isn’t as if Horn lacks confidence. Just take a look at what he said before his pro day, via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco:

"I’m versatile. I got the size. (I) got the speed — athletic. I face every receiver body type, from (Florida tight end) Kyle Pitts to (Ole Miss slot receiver) Elijah Moore, (Heisman Trophy winner) DeVonta Smith (Alabama), and feel like I’m the best defensive player in the draft. …It’d be a blessing to play for the 49ers. We played a lot of man, a lot of cover 3, a lot of single-high man here, so I feel like it wouldn’t be that hard of a transition."

Now, this doesn’t totally answer the question of why Horn might be a better selection over Surtain.

Well, that’s twofold.

For starters, if Horn is still viewed as a second-half first-round prospect despite his impressive pro day, the Niners could always maximize value by trying to trade down out of No. 12 a few spots while still grabbing Horn. That probably won’t be quite as easy with Surtain, especially if most of those big boards out there hold true.

On top of that, Surtain had a slightly slower 40-yard time at his own pro day — 4.42 seconds. It doesn’t seem like a big difference compared to Horn’s 4.39 time, but that difference would show up on deeper throws down the field against fast receivers.

Maybe that’s the difference. It’s hard to say with complete certainty.

Either way, it’s probably a good idea to bump Horn up the speculative San Francisco interest list as day one of the NFL Draft approaches.

Next. 5 sleeper wide receivers 49ers can target in NFL Draft. dark