The Carolina Panthers made a surprise selection with the eighth-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft but it might also be one of the safest ones. Carolina entered the first round with two positions on their mind — offensive line or cornerback. They had a chance to land either one and decided to go with South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn.
The Panthers made Jaycee Horn the first defensive player taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. Each of the first seven selections were on the offensive side of the ball.
At No. 8, the Panthers had a chance to make it eight in a row but they opted for Horn. The Detroit Lions took Penei Sewell the pick before Carolina was on the clock. They still had a chance to land Rashawn Slater but felt that Horn was the better selection.
Horn was not the top-rated cornerback entering the night. He was behind Patrick Surtain II, who ended up going ninth to the Denver Broncos. Horn will join a rebuilding Panthers’ team that is looking to rejuvenate their defense. Also, Carolina is hoping they found their franchise quarterback. They acquired Sam Darnold in a trade with the New York Jets and believe he can take the next step under Matt Rhule.
Heading into the season, the Panthers will be an interesting team to keep an eye on after their 2021 NFL Draft haul. Here are three predictions for Horn in his first season in the league.
3. Defensive Rookie of the Year?
Jaycee Horn might not have been the top-rated cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft but he is certainly one of the safest picks. He has great technique and is a physical player that covers extremely well. In an age where passing is king, corners are being challenged more than usual. For Horn, this could potentially lead to an award at the end of the season.
The Panthers nearly had a member of their secondary win the award last season. Jeremy Chinn was named a finalist but ultimately beat out by Chase Young of the Washington Football Team. There is no shame in that considering Young is quickly turning into one of the premiere pass rushers in the game.
This year, Horn was the first defensive player taken so why can’t he win the award? It is difficult for a member of the secondary to put up enough numbers but Horn has that ability and potential.
This is not to say that Horn will be the winner but he will be in the competition as the season goes on. At the end of the year if he does win, it should not be a surprise to anyone.
2. Dynamic Duo in Secondary
The addition of Jaycee Horn means the Panthers have a chance to build an elite secondary and it is led by their top two. Horn and Chinn are young players that can make an impact right away. Chinn has already done that and now it is up to Horn to follow the lead.
In his first year in the league, Chinn totaled 117 tackles to go with five passes defended, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two touchdowns. Even after the Darnold trade, there were some rumblings that the Panthers could still be in the market for a quarterback.
With both Justin Fields and Mac Jones on the board, Carolina opted for a top cornerback. This was the right choice as the team continues to build the defense. We have seen successful teams load up in the secondary and that is what the Panthers are attempting to do here.
Chinn and Horn are good players to start with. From here, the Panthers can build around their duo and become even more dynamic.
1. Leads Panthers in Interceptions
The Panthers did not log many interceptions a season ago. Donte Jackson led the way with three picks last year while just four other players came up with at least one. This could have been one of the reasons why Carolina felt the need to bolster their secondary.
Jaycee Horn has a chance to come in and lead the team in interceptions, along with racking up 35 total tackles and 10 defended passes. Many say that good corners often do not log many picks because quarterbacks do not test them much. This might not be the case for a rookie.
Opposing quarterbacks could decide to test the rookie a bit and that means he will have many chances to make him pay. With the leader being at three a season ago, the Panthers could have a new player take over the lead. Horn will come in as a day-one starter and this puts him in position to be successful within the defense.
Carolina passed on potential quarterbacks and offensive lineman to take Horn. He will have to show that this was the right decision and leading the team in interceptions as a rookie will certainly do that.