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George Paton leads Broncos contingent at South Carolina pro day


A day after evaluating prospects at Alabama's pro day, the Broncos continued their scouting work at the University of South Carolina on Wednesday.

General Manager George Paton and Defensive Backs Coach Christian Parker were among the Broncos' representatives in attendance for the Gamecocks' pro day, which featured several top prospects.

Cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu, offensive lineman Sadarius Hutercherson and wide receiver Shi Smith were among the top prospects expected to participate.

Horn, whom NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah rated as the 23rd-best overall player in this year's draft, is widely considered to be one of the top cornerback prospects in this year's draft.

Before his workout, Horn said he believes he's not only the top cornerback in the class, but also the top defensive player in the 2021 draft. Horn said his versatility, size, speed, athleticism and experience playing against different types of receivers have earned him that title. And while most experts have Horn ranked behind Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II, Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and several other defensive players, Horn said he's not concerned with the expert rankings.

"People don't realize it's just a draft," Horn said Tuesday. "You've still got to go play football after this. It don't bother me too much. I'm not saying I'm the best defensive player in the draft [as] a statement to get teams to be like, 'Oooh, he's got good confidence.' I actually feel that way. So no matter if I'm first round, second round, undrafted — when I step on the field, I'm going to show that. In a couple years, we'll all get to see. Experts are wrong all the time. We'll see."

Horn bettered Surtain's pro day numbers, as the South Carolina product posted 19 bench press reps, a 41.5-inch vertical jump, an 11-foot-1 broad jump and a 4.39-second 40-yard dash.

It's possible those numbers — combined with recent news of Farley undergoing surgery — could put Horn into the conversation as the No. 1 cornerback.

"Horn is a big, physical cornerback with plenty of speed and instincts," Jeremiah wrote in his evaluation. "He's physical with his hands to consistently re-route in press coverage. He is fluid when he opens up and can run/stay in phase with vertical routes. His short-area quickness is good for a big cornerback. However, he has some bad habits to break in off coverage. He catches and grabs too much. He will draw a lot of flags at the next level if that doesn't get cleaned up. He does do a good job of locating and playing the ball downfield. He has outstanding hands to finish with the ball. He is more than willing in run support (see: huge hit versus Auburn). Overall, Horn needs to play with more confidence from off coverage (to avoid panicking and grabbing), but he has the skills to excel right away as a press-man cornerback."

Horn, who is the son of former Pro Bowl wide receiver Joe Horn, ranked in the top 10 in passes defensed in the SEC in both 2019 and 2020. He recorded two forced fumbles in 2019 before adding two interceptions in 2020.

Horn played in the first seven games of the 2020 season before opting out of the rest of the year to spend time with his family. Several of his relatives contracted COVID-19, he said Tuesday, and his aunt passed away after battling the disease.

"My two younger siblings got COVID, my grandparents got it and my aunt who is considered high-risk got it," Horn said. "Ultimately, she passed. That was my main reason for opting out: getting to spend time with them, with my aunt especially, before I had to go off and train. After the season, you go right to training. I had really no time to chill with [my] family. After I heard the news about my aunt, I just wanted to spend time with my family before I moved on to the next stage of my life."

Horn, who did not reveal until Tuesday that his aunt had passed away, said it was difficult to read the social media posts from people who called him a quitter.

"It was extremely tough," Horn said. "I'm a real head-strong guy. Don't too much waver me or shake me. I can deal with all the backlash from the fans from losing and stuff like that. But when I opted out, it was kind of mentally tough [to hear] them calling me a quitter and questioning my integrity. Losing my aunt at the same time, it was frustrating. It was like a kind of Twitter war. I was emotional, because I feel like no human should act like that toward another human. If you don't know the whole story, I just lost my aunt and you're over here talking about football. That was kind of frustrating, but I fought through it. I'm in a better place now. I can't wait to get back on the field."

When he's back on the field, Horn said he believes his man-coverage skills are among his best traits.

"I hang my hat on press man-to-man," Horn said. "I feel like to be a great corner, you've got to be good at that. Also my IQ and my competitiveness — how I attack the field and how I attack every game in practice and even in the meeting rooms. Those are some of the things I hang my hat on."

The Broncos had widely been considered a candidate to select a cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft before signing Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller in free agency. Paton said recently that all positions are in play with the ninth-overall pick.

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