CHARLOTTE — As we check in on some preseason predictions in the month leading up to the start of training camp, the latest comes from Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
And he set a high bar for the Panthers' defense this offseason, including one player in particular.
In a panel discussion on NFL Network about which NFC South team could challenge the Buccaneers this season, Tomlinson went to bat for the Panthers, based on their aggressive pursuit of new talent on defense the last two years.
His thesis: Jaycee Horn could be really good, and could take the Panthers' defense to another level.
His argument: "You talk about defense, look at what they've done the last two drafts," Tomlinson said. "They've drafted 11 defensive guys the last two drafts. Matt Rhule actually said this offseason that he needed to address the defense, he wanted to be more aggressive on the defense, especially on third downs. He wanted guys to get up in the wide receiver's face. So what did he do? He went and drafted Jaycee Horn, who in my opinion, will have a Jalen Ramsey-type of impact on that defense. And remember, they got A.J. Bouye in the offseason, who can go man-to-man. Don't sleep on the Carolina Panthers."
Breaking it down: The Panthers had pretty high expectations of Horn when they made him the first defensive player chosen in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Tomlinson wasn't afraid to lean into the hyperbole, comparing him to one of the best cornerbacks in the game before he plays his first snap.
Many of the traits the Panthers loved about Horn are the things other players latch onto when discussing the rookie corner — specifically his size, speed, competitiveness, and NFL pedigree.
But it's one thing to say a man's got a chance to succeed, another to say he can be a player who can erase half the field, and lend a certain personality to an entire defense.
The verdict: We could find out if Horn's that kind of guy this year, based in part on the way Bouye plays.
The veteran corner was always good, but when he was opposite Ramsey in Jacksonville in 2017, he had a career-high six interceptions and made the Pro Bowl. Bouye had plenty of chances to make plays, since opponents clearly preferred throwing at him than Ramsey, who was traded to the Rams in 2019.
If Bouye and Donte Jackson start racking up big numbers this year, it could be a sign that Horn's establishing himself as that kind of player. Maybe Horn will deserve that treatment soon. Either way, the Panthers ought to be better on third downs this year (they were next to last in the league last season, so they can't really get much worse), and Horn figures to be a big part of that.
But that's a heady comparison for Tomlinson to make, before the man has put on a full set of pads in the NFL.
Check out select photos of some of the Panthers new rookie players, including Jaycee Horn, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brady Christensen, Tommy Tremble, Chuba Hubbard, Keith Taylor and Shi Smith.