Tutu Atwell embodies many characteristics of the modern NFL wide receiver. Atwell’s scouting report clearly shows that he possesses track speed, agility, and the capability to be used in a variety of different ways. Standing at just 5’9 and 165 pounds, Atwell lacks size and strength, but he makes up for it in his ability to take the top off of defenses. In his sophomore season at Louisville, he led the ACC in both receiving yards and touchdowns. Atwell’s numbers took a slight dip in 2020 due to below-average quarterback play and the abbreviated season due to the pandemic. However, Atwell’s blazing speed and ability after the catch have garnered real interest from NFL teams. As the old saying goes, speed kills.
Atwell’s blazing speed is never more apparent than after he possesses the ball. His quick breaks in and out of routes combined with his twitchy jab and head movements allow him to create separation from defenders. Atwell knows how to beat linebackers and defensive backs in open space. He excels at turning the corner quickly and easily turns on the jets when he gets out near the boundary.
After Atwell’s sophomore season at Louisville, he led all returning college wideouts with 752 yards after the catch (h/t PFF Draft). That big play ability is incredibly important for the receiver position. Whichever team selects Atwell in this year’s draft should have a clear idea for how they plan to optimize his open-field ability.
Another impressive feature of Atwell’s game is his reliable hands. Despite having a small stature at 5’9, Atwell is able to elevate and contort to make receptions outside of his frame. He tracks the ball well and attacks passes with his hands as opposed to securing the ball with his body. While Atwell won’t make a living catching passes over the middle of the field in the NFL, he’s not afraid to go and make a play when a hit is coming.
To conclude the positives on Atwell, it is essential to draw attention to his versatility as a playmaker. He possesses a wide-ranging skill set that will be used in a variety of different ways in the NFL. His speed, agility, and shiftiness allow him to be a great weapon for NFL offenses. He’s a great option for wide receiver screens, end arounds, quick passing routes, and the obvious deep shot. The jet sweep and quarterback pitch to the receiver is something that has been perfected in Kansas City by Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill. At Lousiville, Atwell was very comfortable running these sorts of plays, and that ability will translate to the NFL.
Throughout his three years in college, he only returned four punts, but he averaged 21 yards a return. While that is a small sample size, Atwell’s speed and shiftiness lend themselves quite well to being a punt returner.
At just 5’9 and 165 pounds, it is fair to ask the question of whether Atwell will be able to remain healthy and avoid big hits by larger defenders over the course of an NFL career. If he could gain even ten pounds of muscle and get up to 175 it would go along way in improving his physique and mitigate some of those big NFL hits. While Atwell is going to make a lot of people miss, he’s inevitably going to take some licks as well. Will his body be able to sustain those shots?
In man-to-man off coverage Atwell has no problem getting solid releases and beating defensive backs with his quick feet. However, as other publications have noted there are times that he struggles running routes through zone defenses in the middle of the field. He often gets rerouted by linebackers which in many cases takes him out of the play. Due to the way he was used as a gadget player and slot receiver, I did not see these issues on tape, but nonetheless they could cause problems for him in the NFL.
He also has difficulties at times winning against press coverages on the line of scrimmage. At Louisville that was not too much of an issue. Because of his speed, he faced off coverage technique from defensives backs about 90% of the time (h/t The Draft Network). That will change in the NFL. Learning how to win against press coverage is something that Atwell must do to be successful. In college he also predominantly run quick-hitting and vertical routes. He must improve his mastery of every route in the tree once he enters the league. Atwell was also frequently used in the slot and as a gadget play type receiver at Louisville. He hardly lined up outside with regularity, and there are legitimate concerns about him being able to play the X or Z receiver position in the NFL. The big question, is whether he is just an offensive weapon or is he able to become a polished NFL wide receiver?
The Tutu Atwell scouting report contains more positives than negatives. He has a unique skill set that if put in the right situation can thrive in the NFL. There are many special athletes in the league that are dyanmic with the ball in space and Atwell fits that bill. That being said, there are areas of his game that have room for improvement. At this point he’s a very interesting prospect that has the potential to be selected somewhere between rounds two and four of this year’s draft. He’s not a sure bet to be a high impact player in the NFL, but the potential is there. Teams that have a need at the receiver position like the Packers, Panthers, and Bears could be inclined to pull the trigger on Atwell during day two of this year’s draft.
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