Among the many items on the Kansas City Chiefs’ checklist for training camp is finding a wide receiver replacement for Sammy Watkins, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason after three seasons with the team.
The candidates for the vacant position as Patrick Mahomes’ third or fourth target include veterans Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle — along with rookie Cornell Powell, whom the Chiefs selected in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft.
“Sammy is such a special talent,” said Powell on Saturday. “You can’t replace what he did. You just got to go out there and fill your own shoes and try to make your own name for yourself.”
Powell earned third-team All-ACC honors in his final year at Clemson by compiling 53 catches for 882 yards and seven touchdowns. As it turns out, Powell shares his Clemson alma mater with Watkins, and the two interacted this offseason when Powell chose his old number — 14.
My guy make that 14 look good— King me (@sammywatkins) May 16, 2021
“My guy make that 14 look good,” wrote Watkins.
“It meant a lot,” said Powell of the tweet. “I’m a Clemson guy. He’s a Clemson legend, and then I just so happen to come to the Chiefs right after him and then we wear the same number. Maybe it’s some Clemson in there. Just trying to keep that same mindset [from] Clemson — the best is the standard each and every day. And out here, the best is the standard. You got to go out there and make plays. You got to perform day in and day out, so just trying to do that.”
Clemson has a rich history of producing quality pro wide receivers, including Watkins, Mike Williams, Tee Higgins — and perhaps the best of them all — DeAndre Hopkins.
Powell is one of four receivers in training camp for the Chiefs this weekend, with the veterans not set to arrive until Monday afternoon.
“It’s special,” Powell said of Clemson. “We’re different. We’re wide receiver U for a reason. The numbers prove it. We have some of the best, or the best receiver in the league is Tyreek Hill, but the second best is DeAndre Hopkins from Clemson. Just got to uphold the standard when we get the league.”
To ready himself to make a case to start in Year 1, Powell said he spent the offseason conditioning in Florida — specifically working on his release, getting in and out of breaks and finishing after the catch. Knowing that he would be facing high temperatures in St. Joseph, he thought there to be no better place to prepare him than under the Florida sun.
The next three days are critical for the 23-year-old; in a sense, he has Mahomes all to himself. Of the four receivers in camp this weekend, he is the player with the only reasonable chance to push veterans for time. He can use these practices to get on Mahomes’ radar before the veterans even arrive.
“It’s extremely important,” explained Powell. “We try to show him that we can come out and make plays Year 1. You want to gain his confidence, gain his trust and you do it by making plays in practice and in preseason. When it comes to game time, he can look out there, and he’s like, ‘Oh, I trust that guy,’ and go out there and keep doing what you’ve been doing.”
That was very much the role for Watkins when he was healthy enough to take the field. When defenses found a way to curb targets such as Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, Watkins rose to the occasion (especially during the team’s 2019 title run).
Given the position vacancy, Powell understands the opportunity at hand — and he has put in the proper work to make the most of it.
“I learned there’s nothing you can really do to get ready for training camp besides doing it and learning from experience,” said Powell. “So just coming out here, make sure your conditioning is up, making sure that you know the plays, knowing and being knowledgeable of the game and your assignment and your alignment will take you far. The rest of it is just football at the end of the day.
“You got to go out there and be a dog and make plays.”