2021 NFL Draft | Cornell Powell set to move up draft boards


When Cornell Powell originally committed to Clemson, it had Deshaun Watson, Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel at quarterback. It was one of the reasons why he decided to play for the Tigers. However, he only caught 20 passes from those quarterbacks before Trevor Lawrence took over in 2018. With Lawrence, he’s been able to record 73 receptions for 1,067 yards and nine touchdowns.

Prior to his commitment to Clemson, he only had visited the campus twice. Not only were the quarterbacks on the roster part of his decision but it just “felt like a natural fit” for him. Keep in mind, the former three-star recruit (per ESPN) could have played just about anywhere. His recruiting list included teams such as Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State. But Clemson felt like home and he made the right decision.

Playing for the Tigers has brought him five ACC championships, a national championship and years of experience. During his tenure, he played behind wide receivers such as Mike Williams, Deon Cain, Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers. Finally in 2020, Powell got his chance to be a starter in the offense and he had a breakout season. In fact, it got him in a game against Ohio State’s Shaun Wade on national TV that helped him gain the attention he deserved.

Now, Powell prepares for the 2021 NFL Draft. With much uncertainty this year around the NFL Scouting Combine, Powell accepted his invite to the Senior Bowl. Let’s start with film from his week in Mobile to get an idea of what some of his reps look like during practice.

Senior Bowl 1-on-1’s 

At the Senior Bowl, Powell checked in at 6-0 and 205 pounds. He had a 79-inch wingspan and 10-inch hands. As I’ve said multiple times on Twitter, Powell plays much bigger than the size he’s listed at. You’ll see that in a few but for now, let’s focus on the 1-on-1’s he participated in at the Senior Bowl.

Starting with the play above, he’s pushing vertically up the field. Despite facing the jam from the cornerback, Powell does a great job swiping the hands away with both hands. As he continues to press upfield, he throttles down, turns his hips to the sideline and comes back to a ball that’s already in the air. This comeback route is all about timing and despite the timing being somewhat off (to be expected at the Senior Bowl), Powell makes a terrific adjustment to make this catch. These adjustments are something he can do regularly. It’s a major plus having a receiver help his quarterback out of a tough situation.

Next, we focus on how Powell works his hands. He releases inside on the play above but just watch his hands. Initially, he looks to swipe the hands and as he gets upfield, he uses his inside hand to keep the defenders hand off his jersey. Ultimately, the cornerback does a nice job staying with Powell through much of the rep despite getting “grabby” but you can see that Powell handles himself well when faced with contact. He’s got a thick and strong build to his frame that teams will covet for his ability to win at the catch-point and have a presence on third down or in the red-zone.

Lastly, let’s focus on some great short area quickness by Powell. It’s not surprising to see him cross this cornerback over with ease. In high school, Powell was a four-year varsity basketball player and in 77 career games, he average 17 points per game with 7.8 rebounds per game. While his ability to track the football and attack the ball at the catch-point is impressive, Powell can work just efficiently in the short areas of the field due to his ability to change direction.

Curl/hitch routes in the passing game 

Moving away from how he changes direction, we focus on how Powell was utilized in running a curl or hitch route. According to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), he had 15 receptions on 16 targets for 150 yards and one drop on curl routes for the 2020 season. Teams knowing that he can be relied on for this is important, especially, when a quarterback is faced with a blitz like the play below.

As Lawrence gets the snap, he’s faced with a blitz to his right. With Powell running the hitch route to his right, his eyes are easily able to adjust and he’s able to fire this one to a wide open Powell. After the pass is secured, it’s easy work to gain some additional yardage after the catch for him.

Sideline adjustments 

Maybe it’s just a thing with Clemson wide receivers to have the body control to make absurd catches along the sideline. For Powell, it makes effortless adjustments to the football when faced with a cornerback draped over his back and only a few inches between green grass and the sideline.

For example, he makes a terrific adjustment against Pittsburgh on the play above. He’s got the cornerback draped over him and despite using a slight push-off, he’s still able to attack the football and show off his athletic ability to make the catch with tapping his foot inbounds.

Against Ohio State, he had a similar catch. This time, he tracks the ball and has to make a full adjustment on the football to ensure he comes down with it. In the process, he’s still able to concentrate on getting one foot inbounds for the completion. It’s these types of plays from him that make him such an intriguing option for a team as he can win at all three levels of the field.

One-handed catch and YAC 

Staying on the game against Pittsburgh, Powell had one of his best games of his career with six receptions for 176 yards and a touchdown. One of his best catches from that game was on the play below where he had cornerback draped over him and he was able to haul in the pass with one hand and still get yards after the catch. According to SIS, he had 305 yards after the catch last season.

Despite this being an absolute dart from Trevor Lawrence, Powell was really the key here by being able to draw the pass interference and still bring this pass in with only one hand. It feels as if he’s got his motor on 100% of the time and teams are going to love that. The 2020 season was an odd one but it was certainly one that Powell felt needed to prove himself to everyone. By putting 53 receptions for 882 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020, he did just that.

Draft projection 

Heading into the unofficial Clemson Pro Day today, Powell will be catching passes from Lawrence. This “pro day” is more of a showcase for Lawrence as he’ll be heading in to get his torn labrum fixed. The official Pro Day for Clemson is March 11.

That being said, it’s expected for Powell to follow up a strong week at the Senior Bowl by having a strong showing on his home turf. It’s unclear how many teams will be in attendance but it’s certain that Urban Meyer will be there for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Every team that is there should be keeping tabs on Powell as it’s expected that Lawrence goes first overall to the Jaguars.

From what I’ve seen, Powell has earned a day two grade on my draft board and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him shoot up into the consensus top-75 conversation. He put up consistent tape in 2020 and is making all the right moves this draft season. It’ll be interesting to see which team drafts him in the 2021 NFL Draft.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.