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2021 NFL Draft: Under-the-radar first-round prospects the Jaguars could pick

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The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock. Man, does it feel good to say that!

It has become almost an internet meme at this point that the Jaguars will be selected former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.

It has also become incredibly common, for good reason, that the Jaguars are mocked two players most commonly at pick No. 25 in the first round, Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore and TCU safety Trevon Moehrig. Certainly, the Jaguars have needs at both of those positions, and it would behoove them to address it at some point in this year’s draft.

However, there are other position groups the Jaguars will want to take a look at, and one of those is the cornerback position. Thought of as two of the best in this year’s class, both Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome and South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn are intriguing options for Jacksonville to consider.

Newsome, a true junior with the Wildcats, was one of the best cover corners in college football last season, earning him First Team All Big Ten honors. He has an incredible ability to stick tightly with his opposing receiver, and as a result wasn’t targeted often in 2020 at all. According to Pro Football Focus, Newsome was targeted just 34 times, allowing 12 receptions for 93 yards and zero touchdowns.

While he was only able to play in six games last season to various injuries, Newsome’s coverage ability was still able to standout, tallying the most pass breakups (7) and interceptions (1) he has had in his career. His play in 2020 earned him a coverage grade of 83.8, according to PFF.

Among draft eligible cornerbacks with at least 105 coverage, Newsome had a snap per reception allowed of 17.7 snaps, good for No. 6 in the nation. For reference, the next player we will be discussing, Horn, had a snap/reception rate of 27.4 snaps, good for the best in college football with that same criteria.

At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Newsome possesses the length necessary to compete at a high level in the NFL, able to keep up with the changes in length at the receiver position.

Here is what NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah had to say about Newsome, who ranks No. 31 in Jeremiah’s top-50 big board:

“Newsome is a tall, agile cornerback. He played a lot of off coverage in Northwestern’s scheme. He stays crouched in his pedal and is always under control. He’s fluid when he opens up to turn and carry vertical routes. He stays in phase and he can locate/play the ball. He doesn’t have an explosive plant/drive, but he does have the awareness to anticipate throws. He has excellent instincts versus the run and pass. Against the run, he will hang on blocks too long at times, but he is a solid tackler once he frees himself. I expect Newsome to develop into a reliable starting cornerback very early in his NFL career.”

Entering 2021, the Jaguars are in a bit of a quandary at the cornerback position. While the team selected cornerback CJ Henderson at ninth overall in last year’s draft, there is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the team’s No. 2 cornerback position. Newsome would represent a clear upgrade, and allows for head coach Urban Meyer and company to begin its rebuild of the team’s defensive secondary.

The other player worth mentioning at the No. 25 slot, Horn, is entering the 2021 NFL Draft as a junior out of South Carolina. Similar to Newsome, he dominated the competition within the SEC, and as noted above achieved a draft-eligible best of snaps per reception allowed at 27.4 snaps, according to PFF.

Although Newsome may be lacking in the long speed department, Horn certainly is not. He has been able to keep up with each and every receiver he’s faced thus far in the SEC. Last year, Horn gave up just eight receptions on 24 targets for 116 yards and three touchdowns through seven games of the SEC’s 10-game season.

While his season was cut short due opting out of the season amid the coronavirus pandemic, Horn showed plenty of promise, and should be thought of as one of the best cornerbacks in this year’s class. At one point in the season, Horns’ completion percentage allowed (24%) was the lowest among all power five cornerbacks. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Horn has the size profile to compete with the best of the best at the next level, and should be able to make a smooth transition following the draft. He could quickly become a team’s No. 1 cornerback due to his shut-down ability, and athleticism on the boundary.

In three seasons, Horn accumulated 101 tackles (69 solos), three sacks, two interceptions (both in 2020) and 23 pass breakups.

According to Jeremiah, Horn is rated as the No. 23 player in the draft, and the third cornerback overall behind Alabama’s Patrick Surtain and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley. Here is what he had to say about Horn:

“Horn is a big, physical cornerback with plenty of speed and instincts. 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.”

The Jaguars would likely select Horn ahead of Newsome, but they can’t necessarily go wrong with either at pick No. 25. While there certainty are concerns regarding both prospects - Newsome’s ability to stay healthy and Horn’s active, perhaps at a detriment, hands in coverage - both players represent clear upgrades at a position of need for Jacksonville.

If you’re looking for different options at pick No. 25, make sure to take a closer look at both of them, especially as the Pro Days begin in the coming weeks.