Now that the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2021 draft process is complete, it’s time to start evaluating how each player fits into the team’s scheme, how they’ll factor into the 2021 depth chart and how they project to contribute in the long term. I continue with 2021’s 181st overall selection: Clemson wide receiver Cornell Powell.
In college, Powell excelled as an outside wide receiver — playing on the ball as an “X” receiver and off the ball as a “Z” receiver. While he also lined up in the slot, most of his production came from widened alignments.
At 6 feet and 204 pounds, Powell has the physique the Chiefs like to see in “X” receivers; he is very similar in size to Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson. During the draft process, he didn’t turn in as fast of a 40-yard dash as they did, but he posted better results in the vertical jump and broad jump. He also has 10-inch hands — a half-inch larger than either of them. Per Mockdraftable.com, Powell’s hands are in the 87th percentile among NFL receivers.
While he may not have great straight-ahead speed, he shows impressive quickness in his route-running. He has clean footwork on his releases from the line of scrimmage — and breaks hard out of cuts to create separation.
Powell shows some shake in his routes; clean footwork on his release. Had Ohio St. CBs spinning and grasping to keep up in the CFP semi-final— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 17, 2021
(Sorry for no film annotations. He's the widest WR to the right of the QB in each play)
*Sick stiff arm on second play's EZ angle* pic.twitter.com/j9i3wH3wIe
Even if he hasn’t consistently created separation on vertical routes, he shows a knack for positioning himself well to come down with a contested jump ball. The Chiefs noticed that too: after he was drafted, the team’s director of college scouting — Ryne Nutt — labeled Powell as a “post-up receiver.”
Powell looks really natural/comfortable going up for the ball on the sideline in tight coverage. These are some really nice catches, even if he's gotta get two feet down from now on #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/r8TO02Svbe— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 17, 2021
In recent seasons, receivers with this “post-up” ability have been missing from the Chiefs’ offense. The Chiefs don’t usually throw to contested sideline routes — to be fair, they usually don’t need to do so — because no Chiefs receiver has shown a consistent ability to win those attempts. Powell looks natural in those situations.
This particular rep was probably a big part of Kansas City’s evaluation of Powell. He runs hard for every yard of this 60-yard throw-and-catch, coming down with the ball one-handed while drawing a defensive holding penalty. His ability to track the pass that far down the field is impressive enough — but to secure the pass like that shows you how natural he is catching the ball.
As I noted in the tweet, with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, the ability to make such a play could come in handy.
How he factors into the 2021 depth chart
From what I’ve seen of Powell, he should be firmly in competition with Robinson and Pringle for snaps as the “X” receiver. It won’t be his on-field talent that keeps him from playing; I would trust him above the others to create separation against press coverage. Instead, his biggest disadvantage will be his lack of experience in the offense.
Aside from that, the three are similar players — although Powell’s jump-ball ability might be more impressive than what we’ve seen from the other two. And it’s not crazy to group them together: Robinson was a fourth-round pick, while Pringle went undrafted. It wouldn’t be fair to dismiss Powell just because he was a fifth-round selection.
Being a rookie and not knowing coach Reid’s complex system will restrict him to an extent, but Powell does have an opportunity to contribute in 2021. Even if he doesn’t get many offensive snaps, he should be an important special teams player right away.
The Chiefs’ future at the wide receiver position is very much up in the air. Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman are the only wideouts signed past 2021 — and both of their contracts expire after 2022. This is why it was so surprising to see the Chiefs pass on talented receivers early in the draft — but they had clearly identified a prospect that they felt good about selecting later.
Still, I think the wide receiver should be one of the top needs in the 2022 NFL Draft — but if Powell can hold his own this season, he may suddenly find himself high on the depth chart for 2022 and beyond.