Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy well connected to draft prospect Jaycee Horn

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Todd Brock
·4 min read
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NFL teams and college players are looking for every angle they can find right now as they jockey for position less than a week before the 2021 draft. And any slight connection- no matter how minor- between a prospect and one of the clubs considering him is often enough to convince the pundits that it signals a match made in football heaven.

If South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn wasn’t already among the most-presumed picks for Dallas at the 10th spot overall, his virtual visit with the team this week reminded everyone why he may have a leg up on the competition, at least with the Cowboys head coach.

“It’s been a joy to watch you play,” Mike McCarthy told Horn during the video conference. “Obviously having the opportunity to work with your father for ten years.”

His father being Joe Horn.

Yes, that Joe Horn, he of the infamous flip-phone touchdown celebration of 2003.

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The wide receiver played twelve years in the NFL, logging 8,744 yards and 58 touchdowns on 603 catches. McCarthy was the quarterbacks coach in Kansas City; he and Horn overlapped there from 1996 through 1998. Then the two worked together again from 2000 to 2004 in New Orleans, where McCarthy was offensive coordinator and Horn enjoyed the most productive years of his career.

Mike McCarthy has already shown himself to rely heavily on familiar faces. Most of his coaching staff hires have been co-workers from his past, and he- like many NFL coaches- often brings in players with whom he has some personal connection.

HaHa Clinton-Dix had been a former McCarthy player when he was signed as a free agent. Aldon Smith got his comeback break from McCarthy because the two were working out at the same gym. And last season, McCarthy drafted quarterback Ben DiNucci after a chance meeting in an elevator.

Those are just examples of the kinds of seemingly random touchpoints that can be the deciding factor on a player’s chances with a team.

Jaycee Horn was only two months old when McCarthy and Joe Horn were reunited in New Orleans, so the coach is clearly going more on DNA than any long personal relationship when it comes to the young cornerback.

But the elder Horn’s football legacy may prove to be enough.

Defensive backs coach Al Harris (another former McCarthy player) asked Jaycee why he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and play the position that sent him to four Pro Bowls.

“Crazy,” Jaycee explained, “my dad actually pushed me away from playing wide receiver. He just always harped on my ball skills and my aggression. He was like, ‘If you can make plays on the ball on the defensive side, you know, everybody’s trying to be the next Odell [Beckham Jr.], but there ain’t many guys trying to play defensive back.’ So he pushed me to play DB, and I just took it from there.”

Horn isn’t lacking for confidence, even proclaiming that in a single one-on-one winner-take-all rep, he would beat his dad, who’s in the Saints Hall of Fame.

The 21-year-old also believes he’s the best cornerback in the 2021 draft, ranking himself ahead of Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II when asked point-blank by Harris.

“I feel like I’m the best corner in the draft, hands down,” Horn answered. “When I look at all the corners, I feel like the top of the top is me and Pat Surtain at Alabama. I feel like he’s a great player; I learned a lot watching his film. But I think what separates us, ultimately, is just the way we compete, the way I compete and the way he plays. I feel like it’s a night-and-day difference when you turn on the tape.”

Horn isn’t the only one pumping up his stock. Kyle Pitts, the highly-coveted tight end out of Florida, called Horn the best defender he faced last season during his virtual interview with the Dallas brass.

Between other elite prospects and even the Cowboys’ own coach, the signs seem to be urging the team to make the call to Horn if he’s there. What the war room actually does when they’re on the clock next week, though, will have Cowboys fans on hold a while longer.

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