You'll be hard-pressed to find a story arch quite like Cornell Powell's for a long time.
The Clemson fifth-year senior receiver finally burst on the scene with 53 receptions, 882 yards and a tied for team-high seven touchdowns in 12 games in 2020.
If it felt like this performance came out of nowhere, it's because it essentially did. Powell had 40 career catches in the previous four years. He sat behind talented receiver after talented receiver on the depth chart. He had an academic issue in 2018 when he only played four games and battled inconsistency in practices.
Many players with his pedigree and recruiting stars would've jumped ship for another opportunity, but Powell stuck it out and it paid off. He's headed to the Senior Bowl and has gone from an NFL afterthought to potentially a top-3 round selection in 2021.
His breakout season has to be categorized as a surprise, even though the Clemson coaches and players raved about Powell in the spring and fall camp. After posting meager numbers in the first six games, in which he had two touchdowns and not a single contest over 50 yards receiving, Powell lit it up in the second half of the year.
He posted three consecutive 100-yard games. He had a career-high 11 catches against Boston College without Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. He was the offensive star in a 47-40 loss to Notre Dame in double overtime. Powell had six catches for a career-best 176 yards against Pittsburgh.
He had two touchdowns and 139 yards against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl loss, torching NFL prospect Shaun Wade. It was a magical season for a player who was rewarded for his patience and hard work, but Powell wasn't the only surprise player of 2020. Here are four more who stood out in a positive way:
Myles Murphy: Coming into 2020, Bryan Bresee was the headliner in terms of defensive freshmen, and while he didn't disappoint, what Murphy did was nothing short of impressive. The talented defensive end led Clemson in tackles for a loss (11.5) and finished second in sacks (4.0) but was spurned when it came to All-ACC. He was All-Clemson at a position where the Tigers needed somebody to step up and was better than advertised.
Davis Allen: Most of the focus at the tight end position centered around Braden Galloway, but Davis wasted little time in making an impact in the passing game. The sophomore from Calhoun, Ga., had four touchdown receptions, including one in three consecutive games, and ran an almost unstoppable play on most of them. Allen also finished with more than 15 yards per reception, a mark higher than Galloway.
Will Spiers: The much-maligned and often criticized punter needed a big senior season, and he delivered. Spiers averaged a career-best 43.98 yards per boot, which is up from his 42.26 average a year ago. He became reliable, more efficient and less talked about for good reasons. It was about as pleasant a surprise as Clemson's had on special teams in some time.
D.J. Uiagalelei: There haven't been many more quarterbacks with more potential and expectation than this freshman. You can count them on one hand in Clemson history, but don't let that distract you from just how good he really was in limited play. When Lawrence went out with COVID-19 for two games, Uiagaeleli threw for 781 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in that span. He proved he was ready for the big stage right out of the gate, and that's something you just don't know about a young player until you see it.