Despite letting former No. 2 wide receiver Sammy Watkins walk in free agency and missing out on signing JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Kansas City Chiefs elected to wait until day three of the 2021 NFL draft to add some new playmakers on offense.
Now in the second week of organizaed team activities heading into mandatory minicamp, fifth-round TE Noah Gray and sixth-round WR Cornell Powell have been among the extensive group of Chiefs getting their bearings back on the field this offseason.
After missing the first week of voluntary practices while in Hawaii for his Aloha Classic charity golf tournament, quarterback Patrick Mahomes was also back in action with his new rookie pass-catchers this week. Following the team’s third and final session of the week on Thursday, June 3, Mahomes took to the podium with a strong endorsement of both Gray and Powell.
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Mahomes on Powell: ‘He’s a Beast, Man!’
Asked directly about his early impressions of the team’s fifth and sixth-round selections, the former league MVP offered up rave reviews of both, starting with Gray.
“They can work, man,” Mahomes said during his June 3 press conference. “They know how to get out there and make plays happen. Noah has been really good. I think he has that veteran-type skill set where he knows how to get himself open even if it’s not exactly what the play is designed to do. He knows how to get his eyes back [and] be on the quarterback’s timing.”
Gray is expected to compete with veterans Blake Bell, Nick Keizer and Evan Baylis for situational snaps behind All-Pro starter Travis Kelce, who led the club in targets (145) and receptions (105) for the fifth consecutive season in 2020. Powell’s path to potential playing time, however, is more clear with Watkins out of the picture.
Described by Chiefs college scouting director Ryne Nutt as a “post-up receiver” who can “pick up where Sammy left off,” it’s not just passes that the 6-foot, 204-pound Powell is catching this offseason.
It’s the attention of his new quarterback.
“Powell, he’s a beast, man. Just how big he is out there. He’s running across the field making a lot of catches in tough, contested spots,” Mahomes continued. “So to be able to work with those guys, along with the other guys, to continue to be able to improve those rooms, it’s going to help us out a ton in the long run.”
Leading up to the first day of minicamp on June 15, the Chiefs will take the field for their final voluntary OTA practices next week from June 8-11.
Where Does Powell Fit In?
Ranked first in total offense for two of the last three seasons, Andy Reid’s unit is expected to replace Watkins’ production with more of a group effort in 2021. With Tyreek Hill penciled in as an unquestioned starter, third-year speedster Mecole Hardman is next in line for increased playing time, with breakout candidate Byron Pringle and sixth-year veteran Demarcus Robinson also heavily in rotation.
“Mecole [Hardman], [Byron] Pringle, D-Rob [Demarcus Robinson] — they all have had an opportunity to do it for us throughout their whole entire careers here,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said on June 3. “So we’re counting on those guys to step up. When it’s all said and done with, we coach our guys — each and every one of them — to be the starter. So when it’s all said and done with, these guys will be mentally as well as physically prepared to step up in any role that we foresee them to be in.”
Heading into training camp later this summer, Powell won’t likely find his name any higher than fifth or sixth on Kansas City’s wide receiver depth chart. However, even as a late-round pick, the 23-year-old possesses enough upside coming from the high-powered Clemson offense to quickly move up the ranks if he can establish rapport with Mahomes and company early on.
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!