Late bloomers aren’t always the most attractive prospects at the wide receiver position, but Clemson wide receiver Cornell Powell shouldn’t be overlooked in the NFL Draft, regardless. What does Powell bring to the table with his unique array of traits? What is his range, and what impact can he make at the next level?
Cornell Powell NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 210 pounds
Position: Wide Receiver
Current Year: Redshirt Senior
Cornell Powell took a long time to take on a premier role in Clemson’s offense, but Powell chose Clemson with patience in mind. A three-star prospect from Greenville, North Carolina, Powell had offers from schools with more immediate opportunities available, including Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, and Wake Forest.
Despite his relatively low prestige, some schools did see Powell as a hidden gem. Alabama and Ohio State both offered the 6-foot-0, 200-pound receiver scholarships, and the Clemson Tigers also approached him with interest. Powell ultimately signed with Clemson, becoming their third-best receiver recruit of the 2016 class, behind T.J. Chase and Diondre Overton.
Cornell Powell’s career as a Clemson wide receiver
As soon as Powell arrived at Clemson, he was at the bottom of a receiver group headlined by players like Mike Williams, Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Artavis Scott. Additionally, the Tigers had a healthy pipeline of receiver talent that would pull in players like Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, and Amari Rodgers over the course of the coming years.
The odds were against Powell in his quest for playing time. And in his first three years, he received little. He did play as a true freshman, but he only logged 12 receptions for 87 yards. As a true sophomore, he had even less impact, putting up just eight catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.
Powell’s career at Clemson bottomed out in his third year. Powell played just four games as a true junior, catching five passes for 63 yards. The Clemson wide receiver managed to produce on limited reps as a return man, but regardless, he wound up redshirting heading into 2019. At that point, Powell could have transferred in an attempt to earn more playing time somewhere else.
Yet, Powell chose to stay put and make the most out of what he had.
Cornell Powell’s final two seasons at Clemson
Powell came back to the program as a redshirt junior and logged 15 receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Still working on his degree, he returned in 2020 for his fifth season, and soon, the opportunity revealed itself. Tee Higgins left for the 2020 NFL Draft, and Justyn Ross was forced to miss the coming campaign with a neck injury.
The stars began to align for Powell, but at first, his breakout season didn’t materialize. In his first four games, Powell had just eight catches for 57 yards and no touchdowns. But against Georgia Tech, in Clemson’s fifth game of the season, Powell finally broke the mold.
Powell caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown against the Yellow Jackets, and from there, he was a top target for Clemson.
Over his final eight contests, Powell put up 45 catches for 825 yards and seven touchdowns. After averaging just 82.25 yards per season in his first four seasons, Powell averaged over 100 yards per game in the final eight-game stretch of his career.
Concluding a winding college career on a high note
Cornell Powell’s late breakout was sudden, and it was just what he needed to reinvigorate his NFL Draft hopes. Powell graduated with a degree in management in December, then ended his career with an eight-reception, 139-yard, two-touchdown outburst in a loss to Ohio State.
On January 10, Powell officially announced his intentions to enter the 2021 NFL Draft. It was an announcement that wouldn’t have garnered much attention a year ago. Nevertheless, Powell’s hard work and perseverance helped manifest a future in football. Of course, it helps that he’s fairly talented as well.
Analyzing Cornell Powell’s NFL Draft profile
Off of physical traits alone, Cornell Powell is extremely intriguing. He stands at 6-foot-0, 210 pounds, which is a solid frame for the NFL level. That size allows him to compete in contested situations, in conjunction with good body control. It also implies more capacity to withstand contact, although Powell hasn’t explicitly displayed that ability consistently.
What Powell has displayed consistently is his speed. It’s not elite deep speed, but Powell has a healthy pace to fall back on. He also has fairly solid explosiveness. The Clemson wide receiver gears up nicely in open space, and he also shows flashes of short-area burst when taking short RAC receptions. Again, it’s not elite, but it’s enough to make plays and create against defensive backs.
Additionally, Powell also displays glimpses of good twitch and lateral suddenness. This is something he needs to show much more consistently, but there are reps where Powell is able to create displacement with twitchy movements at the line of scrimmage. Furthermore, some impressive snippets of route running nuance also suggest potential for Powell in that area.
What are the concerns with Powell?
Cornell Powell is an experienced, high-character player with good athletic traits. However, some factors are limiting his stock. His late breakout is a concern. It shows two things — 1) his athletic traits, while good, are not elite, and 2) he couldn’t string together much consistency in his first four years.
Even in his best games this season, in fact, there was inconsistency from snap to snap regarding his process as a receiver. The inconsistency was most noticeable in Powell’s route running. There are instances where Powell used smooth movements and head fakes to create separation. However, just as often, his routes were fairly bland and predictable.
Powell isn’t consistently dynamic as a route runner, and he’s not a good enough athlete to get by on talent alone at the NFL level. He’ll have to keep refining his game, but given that he turns 24 this coming fall, there is uncertainty surrounding his remaining upside.
Powell is a solid competitor who can line up on the boundary and in the slot. He has good athleticism, decent run-after-catch ability, and body control down the field. He’s also a willing run blocker. However, he will be limited at the NFL level without more sharpness in his routes and more consistent urgency in his game. Luckily, there’s a foundation for him to build off of.
Cornell Powell’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Cornell Powell no doubt adds to the depth of the 2021 NFL Draft receiver class. He’s a well-sized receiver with good athletic traits. Thus, he should get a chance at the next level.
However, relative to other receivers, his development was relatively stagnant throughout his career. He only broke out in his fifth season, and even then, it took some time for his emergence to take root.
Powell isn’t as highly-rated as a prospect as fellow Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers. Nevertheless, his physical traits and team-first mentality serve as solid factors to bank on in the Day 3 range. Particularly from Round 5 to Round 7, Powell is a fairly universal fit for NFL teams.
He’s a prospect who can provide early depth, versatility, and utility in multiple phases, and he also has a degree of developmental upside for teams with thinner receiving groups.
There’s a definite cap on Cornell Powell’s NFL Draft range. Nevertheless, the fact that we’re having this conversation now is impressive. A year ago, Powell was a draft afterthought. He barely had a footprint on the NFL Draft circuit. Now, he’s a legitimate prospect who can solidify his profile with a standout week at the Senior Bowl.