Heading into the 2021 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs were noticeably less talented at the top of the wide receiver depth chart following the departure of Sammy Watkins to Baltimore. However, the reigning AFC champions may have found a hidden gem in the fifth round to help replace the former No. 4 overall pick.
Selected with the 181st overall pick on Saturday, May 1, Clemson wideout Cornell Powell will now have the opportunity to catch passes from Patrick Mahomes following a collegiate career featuring Deshaun Watson and this year’s first pick Trevor Lawrence as his quarterbacks.
Shortly after landing Powell, Chiefs director of college scouting Ryne Nutt described the 6-foot, 204-pounder as a “post-up receiver” who can “pick up where Sammy left off,” according to Arrowhead Report’s Joshua Brisco. Turns out, Nutt was hardly the only person heaping praise on Powell’s skills.
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NFL Twitter Erupts Over Chiefs’ Latest Draft ‘Steal’
It didn’t take long for the football world to piece together what the Chiefs had just done, especially after a clip of Powell’s slippery route-running ability began to go viral.
SiriusXMFantasy host Joe Dolan was quick to call the two-time national champion a “legitimate sleeper.”
“KC needs this,” ESPN Monday Night Football and NFL draft analyst Louis Riddick said of the pick, via Jarrett Sutton on Twitter. “He wins on the outside. He’s a great route runner. He’s strong after the catch and in between the numbers. He’s a great double move route runner. He’s much different than the profile of WR they have right now. Veach wanted this.”
Matt Miller of The Draft Scout tweeted that Powell should be “an immediate special teams ace” even if he’ll need time to ascend the depth chart on offense behind Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson and others.
“I like Powell as a kind of glue guy for the WR room who you may never design plays for, but don’t mind if the ball goes his way,” The Athletic’s Nate Tice wrote. “He’s a competitive player who plays big and has a solid all-around game but no true strengths, either.”
Powell on KC: ‘It’s Like a Perfect Fit for Me’
Speaking to local media for the first time on Saturday, the Clemson playmaker fueled even more excitement by suggesting he has not yet reached his ceiling as a receiver.
“I have so much more to show to everyone,” Powell told reporters during his first press conference. “What I displayed this season is not even scratching the surface yet. I’m just ready to come into Kansas City and just grind. … We just had this Clemson mindset to just dominate everything, every play, every possession. So I’m looking to continue that and just bring this winning attitude to Kansas City, which they already have. It’s like a perfect fit for me.”
After four seasons of limited production behind a group of NFL-caliber pass-catchers, including Mike Williams, Tee Higgins, Hunter Renfrow, Amari Rodgers and Jordan Leggett, Powell set career-highs across the board with 53 catches, 882 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, who compared Powell to former Green Bay Packers third-rounder James Jones, had this to say in his predraft scouting report.
Unique evaluation as a wideout who came into the program as a four-star recruit, never beat out talent in front of him and then put together impressive tape in his single season as full-time starter. Powell is well-skilled beyond the career production as he’s clearly taken in the coaching and learned from others at the position. He’s smooth but will have to win with route polish and competitiveness as his long speed and separation burst appear to be very average, which could lead to a higher number of contested catches outside the Clemson offense. The tape is good but the testing will be important as teams grapple with the single season of production. Powell will be an NFL backup, at worst.
The 23-year-old put to rest any further questions about his athleticism at his March 14 pro day, where he posted a 4.47-second 40-yard-dash, a 36.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-8 broad jump.
Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!