If you saw Cornell Powell at Clemson's Pro Day in March, he had the look of an NFL wideout.
The Clemson product wowed viewers with his D.K. Metcalf-like physique. Powell was in tip-top shape, and he put on a good show. Combine that with his production in 2020 (53 catches, 882 yards, 7 TDs) and it's a sure thing that he'll be selected somewhere in this week's 2021 NFL Draft.
But it's not just what you can see about Powell that will help him reach his goal of making the pros. It's how he got to this point that separates him from a plethora of prospects looking for ways to stand out to future employers.
“He is a great example for so many people out there, especially in this environment we are in now," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said to the ACC Network during Pro Day. "Where if it is not going your way, you just pack up and leave. Cornell could have left. He played as a freshman. Then he got hurt. He battled through injuries, hamstring. Then we redshirted him in the middle of his career."
Swinney's right. Powell had every reason to enter the transfer portal and seek out more playing time or simply a more prominent role in another offense after recording 40 catches in his first four seasons. However, he didn't. The Greenville, N.C., native stuck with it, despite sitting and watching guys like Mike Williams, Tee Higgins and Hunter Renfrow develop into NFL talents.
While they were playing on Sundays, Powell kept grinding, believing his opportunity at Clemson would eventually arrive.
"What I love about Cornell is that he became very self-aware," Swinney said. "He wanted to be coached. He had to learn how to compete at this level and really play full speed all the time. It was awesome."
It certainly worked out for Powell. By his senior season, the curious case he once was disappeared, and a productive season/great connection with projected first overall pick Trevor Lawrence developed.
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For Swinney, this was the ultimate scenario. He loves players who aren't as talented right out of the gate like Lawrence or Travis Etienne sit, learn and work hard. Guys who don't go from directly from Friday night stars to Saturday ballers have a special place in Swinney's heart.
Despite the two national titles, six consecutive College Football Playoff appearances and back-to-back top-5 recruiting classes, Swinney still believes Clemson is a developmental program.
Powell proved that, even though his road was different than some others. Nobody knew who Renfrow was when he walked on at Clemson. Defensive end Kevin Dodd was relatively unheralded as well before he went from bench-warmer to a second-round draft pick. Adam Humphries was never expected to have a lengthy NFL career. Vic Beasley was a three-star tight end when he arrived in Tiger Town, but he left the school's all-time sack leader.
Powell, however, was supposed to be a major player at "WRU." He was a four-star prospect, but he had on- and off-the-field circumstances that limited his playing time. Once he finally got it and it all came together, he lived up to his potential at Clemson, not somewhere else.
"The easy thing for him to do would be to leave, but he stayed, and he competed," Swinney said. "That, I think, is the best quality you can have if you are going to be successful at the next level.”
And the odds of that happening have risen tremendously. Powell won't hear his name called during the first round Thursday, but he oozes "steal" potential as a third or fourth-rounder. The work ethic, the dedication and the desire to be something now is what's going to attract NFL teams.
And when he's playing on Sundays and helping a pro team be better, rest assured that Powell will be the source of many Swinney soliloquies on player development and "sticking with it," especially now that there are fewer underdog-type players in the program.
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