Dallas Cowboys' focus for No. 10 pick in 2021 NFL draft: Which cornerback?

FRISCO, Texas -- Four days before the first round of the 2021 NFL draft and it has become clearer as to who the Dallas Cowboys will select in the first round.

For all of Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones' infatuation with Kyle Pitts, the Florida tight end should be drafted already by the time we reach the No. 10 pick on Thursday in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and the ESPN app). For all of the sense it would make to select Oregon's Penei Sewell or Northwestern's Rashawn Slater to bolster the offensive line, it would not give the Cowboys the help they need the most.

As it was when the 2020 season ended, the Cowboys (6-10) have to think defense.

There isn't a bona fide pass-rusher worth taking at No. 10 and there isn't a hulking defensive tackle worth taking, either. Yes, there are linebacker worries, but those don't outweigh the cornerback needs.

So with the 10th pick in the first round, the Cowboys will draft ... either Alabama's Patrick Surtain II or South Carolina's Jaycee Horn.

The narrowing of the focus is not unusual when it comes to the Cowboys' selections. In 2015, cornerback Byron Jones became the favorite. In 2016, running back Ezekiel Elliott was the pick, although at No. 4 overall it was a little easier to decide. In 2017, defensive end Taco Charlton's name kept popping up, as did linebacker Leighton Vander Esch a year later. Last year was a surprise because CeeDee Lamb was not expected to be available at No. 17 overall, but the Cowboys likely would have taken linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson if not for the wide receiver's availability.

This year the pre-draft process and decision-making has been a little trickier for the Cowboys, who did not have the traditional 30 national visits allowed at the team's facility due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Through it all, cornerback appears to be focus. And there is a lot to like about both prospects.

Start with the genes. Surtain's father, Patrick, was a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Miami Dolphins. Horn's father, Joe, was a Pro Bowl receiver for the New Orleans Saints.

Move to the size. Surtain is 6-foot-2, 208 pounds. Horn is nearly 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds.

Let's go over speed. Surtain ran a 4.41 40-yard dash. Horn ran a 4.4. Neither player did the three-cone or short-shuttle workouts at their respective pro days.

And, how about production? Surtain started 12 games as a true freshman for the Crimson Tide and 38 for his career. He was named the 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and he finished his collegiate career with four interceptions and 31 pass breakups. Horn was a second-team All-SEC pick in 2020 despite opting out after seven games. He had two interceptions and 25 pass deflections.

"My hang-up a little bit with Patrick is playmaking ability, and again when I say that I had the same concerns with [Baltimore Ravens cornerback] Marlon Humphrey when I was with the Seahawks at the time," Senior Bowl executive director and ESPN draft analyst Jim Nagy said. "Marlon struggled tracking and finding the football and making plays on the ball in college. That hasn't been the case as a pro. He's now one of the top playmakers in the league. So that's a nitpick on Pat, but I think he'll be a very good pro."

Nagy has Horn as his top-ranked cornerback, followed closely by Surtain.

"I love how [Horn is] wired," Nagy said. "He's hyper-aggressive. He loves to jump routes. He's got playmaking ability. He loves to run his mouth. I love my corners like that. I've been around Ty Law and Richard Sherman, guys that have been on teams I've been with."

Nagy worked with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn with the Seattle Seahawks, and talked about what Quinn likes in cornerbacks.

"I've sat in draft meetings with him," Nagy said. "I haven't talked to Dan specifically this draft cycle about Patrick, but he is that style of corner. We used to call them, 'Seahawk corners.' He has that kind of guy. He definitely has the tools that Dan would be looking for."

But there's a connection to Horn as well that could influence the Cowboys. Joe Horn's four Pro Bowl appearances with the Saints came with Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy as the New Orleans offensive coordinator. Jaycee Horn's college coach, Will Muschamp, is close friends with Quinn. They worked together with the Miami Dolphins and Muschamp hired Quinn as the coordinator at Florida.

With the hours counting down, the Cowboys' pick seems pretty clear. It's Surtain or Horn. Maybe it's Horn or Surtain.