MOBILE, Ala. — Tyvis Powell sat down at the end of Ohio State’s season and started listing all the things he had wanted to accomplish when he began his college career.
Then he started checking off goals. One by one, all the way down the page. By the time he was finished, only one goal on the list remained unchecked.
Powell wanted a tree in Buckeye Grove. Since 1934, every first-team All-American at Ohio State has received a tree planted in his honor somewhere in Buckeye Grove, which is just outside Ohio Stadium. As good as Powell was in three years as a starter, he didn’t make the All-America lists.
But degree in hand and with so many other check marks on his list, Powell decided he would leave his tree unplanted and make a bid for the NFL with one year of eligibility on the table.
“I can live with that,” he said.
Powell now heads to the NFL combine as the kind of mid-round safety prospect who could be a good value pick for a team like the New Orleans Saints, who have Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd entrenched as starters but could be looking for a third safety to replace Rafael Bush and potentially take over for Byrd down the line.
There’s a lot to like about one of the less-hyped members of Ohio State’s incredible 2016 draft class.
For starters, Powell measured in at nearly 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds at the Senior Bowl, offering the kind of size to go up against the NFL’s biggest deep threats on jump balls down the field. That kind of size also means Powell, a natural free safety in playing style, can serve in either role in a pinch.
“I can come down, cover the tight end,” Powell said. “I can also play the middle of the field. Anything they need me to do, I can do it.”
During a week of practices at the Senior Bowl — Powell was eligible as a junior who already had his degree — Powell also displayed the kind of ball skills that can be hard to find in a safety. In the North team’s final practice, Powell, who had eight interceptions in his career, picked off USC quarterback Cody Kessler while matched up in coverage against a tight end and also intercepted North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, the darling of Mobile and a potential top-five pick.
“Should’ve been three,” Powell said after the practice. “I dropped one. But let’s not talk about that. ... To make plays in these practices, you’re going against some of the best college players to play the game. If you can make plays against them, it shows you might be able to do the same thing at the next level.”
At Ohio State, Powell had a penchant for making interceptions at critical moments. He picked off Michigan’s two-point conversion attempt to hand the Buckeyes the win over the Wolverines in a 42-41 thriller in 2013. In 2014, he picked off Alabama’s Hail Mary at the end of the Sugar Bowl to send Ohio State to the national championship game, and he came up with another key pick in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame this season.
If Powell had a weakness at Ohio State, it’s that he didn’t always tackle with the kind of force a safety of his size should apply. But he spent most of the Buckeyes’ national championship run playing with a broken wrist, and he knows he has to get better. During Senior Bowl week, Powell paid close attention to the Dallas Cowboys’ tackling drills, making a mental note to copy them in his own training.
Powell also has a leader’s personality. After rooming with Cardale Jones at Ohio State, Powell developed a reputation as a player who can keep the locker room loose.
NFL teams like that kind of energy. In the NFL’s long, sometimes roller-coaster seasons, somebody has to lighten the load on the rest of the roster. “He’s a character, and that’s what he brings to a locker room,” former Ohio State teammate Braxton Miller said. “He gets along with all the guys and the coaches. He played safety with a broken wrist, which amazed me, and that earns respect.”
Powell seems to have all the tools.
Now, as soon as he knows where he’s headed in the NFL, it might be time to start putting together another list to accomplish.