Powell is a rookie receiver and kick returner who is 5'11" and 189 pounds. The Cardinals selected him in the 6th round of this year's draft but he did not make it through final cuts despite catching six passes for 106 yards and averaging 25.7 yards per kick return in preseason. He replaces Quincy Enunwa on the active roster, with Enunwa likely reverting to the practice squad as long as he clears waivers, which the Jets will hope waiting a day or two makes more likely.
After the jump, observations from reviewing footage from preseason to evaluate Powell's strengths and weaknesses.
Who is Walt Powell?
Powell was a small school prospect out of Murray State, where he led for three straight years in receiving. He was also a team captain and productive kick and punt returner. At the scouting combine, he ran a disappointing time in the 40-yard dash. However, he was apparently suffering from an injured foot and did much better at his pro day (4.44). Gil Brandt also reported that he put on an impressive display on the field at his pro day, which no doubt factored into the Cardinals picking him up in the sixth round.
Powell apparently impressed at camp and was able to avoid being a final cut for the Cardinals after a solid preseason, only to then be released one day later. The Cardinals have a pretty deep receiver unit so it's a good sign that he was in the mix there.
Although we don't have too much to go on (117 offensive snaps), we can still learn a lot from his preseason performances.
Week 1 - v Houston
In this game, Powell caught three passes for 74 yards on four targets and had a tackle on special teams. He made an immediate impact with a 45 yard gain down the sideline. This appeared to be a blown coverage, but he made a nifty move downfield to avoid a safety and pick up 20 extra yards. His next catch saw him gain 18 on an out pattern which he caught high and then turned upfield for some extra yards. His final reception saw him make a first down catch just beyond the marker on a curl route. Powell was also targeted deep on two long bombs down the sideline and had a step each time but the pass was overthrown and sailed out of bounds. One was negated by a penalty anyway. He also had a solid special teams tackle at the 16 on kick coverage. The only real negatives were that he was twice called for holding and also was responsible for an illegal formation penalty.
Week 2 - at Minnesota
Powell was targeted three times in this game, making two nine yard catches. The first of these was on a quick slant for a first down and the second came as he stopped just short of the marker on a timing route. On each occasion he had a defensive back draped all over him. His other target was some kind of a communication breakdown as he ran a deep in-route and the quarterback threw right down the seam. He did have another throw his way, a low throw that he could come up with on a diving attempt, but the defense was offside anyway so this didn't count. Powell had mixed results as a blocker in this game. On one play he motioned to the edge but seemed unsure of who to block and ended up getting in the runner's way and on another he didn't sustain his block on the edge although the runner still was able to make a short yardage conversion. He did make a good open field block on a defensive back on a screen pass though. On special teams, he got work as a gunner, drawing some double team attention but not really getting close to the return man.
Week 3 - v Cincinnati
Powell didn't see much action on offense in this game and wasn't targeted. However, he was used as a return man for the first time. On one kickoff return, he made 24 yards, eluding the first man and then turning the corner before being forced out at the 20. On another though, he slipped as he went to make his first cut and faceplanted at the 15. On one punt return, he made seven yards but that was negated by a hold. Once again, he was flagged for lining up in the wrong spot on offense.
Week 4 - at San Diego
In this game, Powell got plenty of opportunities, with one rushing attempt for two yards, a 14-yard catch on one of his two targets, a chance to field punts and five kick returns. He made the best impact as a kick returner, getting out past the 25 on four of his five attempts. He broke two tackles on his longest return, a 37-yarder, and showed good vision and cuts on the other three. The only time he failed saw him start to go East-West at about the 15 at which point bad blocking led to him being snowed under at the 13. He was less successful as a punt return man, with his longest return being just four yards as he eluded the first man but not the second wave. There was one punt where he perhaps made an ill-advised and awkward catch in traffic.
His one catch was a nice play on 3rd and nine. They looked for him underneath on a short crossing route and he was wide open. The pass was slightly behind him but he adjusted, reversed his field and eluded three defensive players to get past the marker for a gain of 14. His other target saw him tightly covered on a quick slant that was thrown high. They were looking for him on another play, an out pattern where he seemed to be open, but that was batted down at the line. His rushing attempt saw him run an end around pattern behind the quarterback who then pitched it to him on a read option on 3rd and three. He was nailed short of the marker in the open field. Once again he was called for a hold while blocking on a wide receiver screen, as he let his man leverage off the block.
Based on all the footage watched, here was what Powell brings to the table, divided into categories:
Measurables - As noted, Powell calmed doubts about his lack of speed with a solid forty time at his pro day. However, looking at the rest of his measurables, they're mostly about average. He did have a very good three-cone drill (6.70) and does have big hands, which makes up in part for his short arms. Powell is a bit slight and will probably need to bulk up and add some strength.
Usage - Powell played both in the slot and outside in preseason. He was also put into motion quite a lot, often motioning to the edge of the line as an effective "move TE". In college, he played as the Z receiver which means he can be put into motion and would need quickness and slot-like skills.
Deep threat - While Powell didn't have any deep catches in preseason, he did beat his man deep a couple of times on unsuccessful throws.
Blocking - The Jets have targeted good blockers with most of the receivers they've added of late, but Powell is a bit of a work in progress here. He's definitely a willing blocker, but in the small sample size preseason gave me, there were too many examples of players muscling off his blocks and him having to grab to keep on top of them.
Routes - Powell is fast and can make sharp cuts, but I'd say his route running needs a little refinement. A defensive back was all over him on quite a few of his targets where he might have got better separation by getting deeper into his route, disguising it better or just by being more physical at the break.
Hands - Powell seems to make smooth hands catches. The only two he didn't come up with were a high throw that was on him quickly and a low throw which he dived for. In each case these were practically uncatchable and I wouldn't call them drops. Some of the catches he did make were in tight coverage.
Yards after the catch - Powell made some good plays after the catch on three of his six catches, so there's some definite promise here, especially in an offense like the Jets' which seeks to get playmakers the ball in the open field.
Instincts - Other than the one run blocking play where he looked a little lost and the play where he apparently ran a different route to what the quarterback was expected, there weren't many negative signs here. He was described as smart in the pre-draft process. He did line up in the wrong spot twice, though, causing two illegal formation penalties.
Special Teams - Here's where Powell has a real chance to contribute. Saalim Hakim was not impressive returning kicks in preseason, while Powell was. He seems to read his blocks well and negotiates traffic too. He was less convincing on punt returns, but then again only got to field a handful and didn't make any major errors. He looked okay on kick coverage and when employed as a gunner, but wasn't outstanding in those roles.
Attitude - As a former team captain, Powell's intangibles are highly touted. He's apparently a hard worker and passionate about learning his craft and getting better (which he does need to work at in several areas). He did have an arrest for domestic violence in his past but that was thrown out due to lack of evidence.
Injuries - Powell is healthy at the moment. He did miss the last two games of last season with a foot injury but doesn't appear to have any major medical red flags.
Something to watch for with all these waiver claims is that the team might keep the player for a day or two, then try to sneak them onto their practice squad. It's a tactic the Jets have employed in the past at this time of year. However, if Powell can impress with his kickoff return skills this week, I could see him being active on Sunday. Philip Adams is not eligible, but I could definitely see the Jets taking that approach with Leon McFadden who is, in my opinion, far too green to risk throwing out there for any meaningful snaps.
Powell himself is pretty green as a receiver (although I quite like his potential based on what I saw) but gives the Jets another option who can at least line up there and perhaps have a few special packages to utilise his skill-set. Much like Hakim and Jalen Saunders, it's on special teams where he's going to be able to forge himself a role.