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Jaycee Horn, Other Prospects Could Kickstart New Cornerback Era For Cardinals

South Carolina standout regularly linked to Cardinals in mock drafts

CB Jaycee Horn has the ideal measurements to play outside cornerback in the NFL.
CB Jaycee Horn has the ideal measurements to play outside cornerback in the NFL.

The free agent departure of Patrick Peterson to the Vikings marked the end of an era.

For many seasons over the past decade, the Cardinals’ secondary was among the best in the NFL, as Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson, Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson -- among others -- teamed up to slow down opposing aerial attacks.

Jaycee Horn, one of the top cornerback prospects in this year's draft, grew up in Alpharetta, Georgia but remembers that group well.

"I was a fan of the Cardinals, a fan of the way they played defense, when they had Pat P, Tyrann Mathieu, Jerraud Powers," Horn said on Tuesday in advance of his Pro Day. "That secondary was really strong."

Peterson was the final link, and now the Cardinals are looking to rebuild their secondary. While All-Pro Budda Baker and the talented Jalen Thompson have safety in a good spot, Byron Murphy Jr. is the only foundation block among the cornerbacks.

That's why there is so much chatter about Horn possibly being added to the group. He is easily the most connected player to the Cardinals at No. 16 overall in mock drafts, and is intrigued by carrying on the legacy of the No Fly Zone.

"I feel like I would fit in well," Horn said. "It would be a blessing to go play in Arizona."

The Cardinals have a different defensive coordinator now than during that group's heyday, but the press man-coverage principles are the same under Vance Joseph as they were with Todd Bowles.

Horn fits the billing, as he is a physical player with the size (6-foot, 205 pounds) and speed (unofficial 4.39-second 40-yard dash) to excel in such a scheme. Horn impressed at his Pro Day on Wednesday, which could raise his draft stock.

"I hang my hat on press man-to-man," Horn said. "I feel like in order to be a good corner, you've got to be good at that."

The Cardinals have traded away three of their first six picks in the draft, but still have their first- and second-rounders. Cornerback is currently the biggest need on the roster, and even if a veteran or two is added in free agency, it is a spot where youth would be coveted.

Horn will likely be one of the first two cornerbacks off the board, along with Alabama's Patrick Surtain II. While Surtain has been connected to the Cardinals as well, most prognosticators see him being taken before No. 16.

Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley previously rounded out the Big Three, although back surgery could push him down the draft board, depending on medical evaluation.

Asante Samuel, Jr. is generally regarded as the fourth-ranked cornerback and would love to jump into the first round, although some see him as a slot cornerback because he is 5-foot-10.

"I feel that I'm a dominant corner on the outside," Samuel said, per USA Today. "They try to look at my height and things of that nature, but I'm the same size as Jaire Alexander, and he's a dominant NFL cornerback right now – one of the best in the league. I feel like size doesn't matter; it's about the heart, and the dog mentality you have on that field."

The Cardinals choose at No. 49 overall in the second round and could be looking at cornerbacks there if they choose a different position in the first round. Northwestern's Greg Newsome, Central Florida's Tay Gowan, Georgia's Tyson Campbell and Syracuse's Ifeatu Melifonwu are viewed among the next tier of cornerback prospects available.

The Cardinals seem likely to target a cornerback at some point in the draft, and Horn believes every team should be taking a close look at him in the first round.

"I'm versatile," Horn said. "I've got the size. I've got the speed. Athletic. I've faced every receiver body type, from (tight end) Kyle Pitts to (speedster) Elijah Moore to (Heisman Trophy winner) DeVonta Smith. I feel like I'm the defensive player in the draft."

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