The Kansas City Chiefs’ 2021 draft class wasn’t anything to open your eyes at nor was it a group to scoff upon. It’s a familiar road we travel as late spring arrives and players who once dominated the collegiate gridiron now don their respective pro uniform for the first time and expectations often begin to take off. For Cornell Powell, a fifth-round selection and former Clemson standout, the narrative has stayed the same.
Kansas City’s offense needs no introduction. Led by their half-billion dollar quarterback, elite speed, and unlimited weaponry on the offensive side of the football, Kansas City has taken over most people’s Sunday viewing pleasure. On the heels of two consecutive Super Bowl appearances, Kansas City enters 2021 with a few deductions from its seemingly unlimited budget of offensive wealth. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is now in Baltimore, offensive tackle Eric Fisher is in Indianapolis, and offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz sits currently unsigned, which will offer a fresh new look for a rather unchanged unit the last couple of seasons.
Enter Powell, who won’t be granted the typical learning curve for league rookies out wide. Disregard Powell’s draft slot, a Power Five prospect with a pro-ready frame and a desire to compete has him set to potentially earn WR2 snaps opposite Tyreek Hill.
Powell was lost in the fray of pass-catching talent at Clemson behind current NFL pass-catchers Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers. Powell accumulated just 40 catches for 329 yards in four seasons for the Tigers before exercising his fifth year of eligibility. It was a move well worth it; Powell enjoyed a breakout campaign totaling 882 yards with seven touchdowns working in tandem with the 2021 first-overall selection Trevor Lawrence. Powell, with a similar frame to Demarcus Robinson, separates himself when relating his skill set to the foundational game plan Kansas City deploys from week to week. A 4.47-second 40-yard runner, Powell blows Robinson out of the water compared to his below-average time of 4.59 seconds. Now, we all know the NFL game doesn’t judge success on how fast you can run in a straight line in a t-shirt and shorts, but for head coach Andy Reid, it sure does help with a gun-slinger in Patrick Mahomes under center.
Hill (4.29 seconds), Mecole Hardman (4.33), and Watkins (4.43) each served major roles in Reid’s ever-developing offense, each could run with the best of them. In fact, Watkins, a former Clemson standout himself, is eerily similar to Powell coming out of the prestigious program at just an inch taller and five pounds heavier. While it could just be a coincidence, it also could provide a look into Reid and general manager Brett Veach eyeing Powell not just as a Day 3 flier but a major weapon in Kansas City’s offense from the onset of his career.
Part of Powell’s chances to win the job at WR2 isn’t just because of his abilities, it boils down to what Kansas City has—or doesn’t have—outside of Hill. Hardman, often used on designed touches out of the backfield on jet sweeps and screens before flashing on a nine-ball down the sideline, doesn’t tout the typical mold of X-receiver traits within Kansas City’s offense. He was last on the team in drop rate in 2020 and has struggled to develop as a route-runner as he heads into his third season. Then there’s Byron Pringle, who turns 28 years old prior to the team’s Week 11 matchup this year; sure, he’s stepped up when asked to, quickly becoming a fan-favorite in Kansas City, but he’s totaled just 300 receiving yards in two seasons.
For Powell, an intriguing prospect within a loaded Kansas City offense with eyes drawn elsewhere, the sky could be the limit for a rookie wideout flying under the radar as camp nears.