The Louisville product managed just 10 offensive snaps his rookie season before a shoulder injury knocked him out for the year during L.A.’s Super Bowl run. Last season, Atwell flashed his potential playmaking ability with 298 receiving yards and three TDs.
McVay expects Atwell to take a leap in his development in Year 3.
“Tutu Atwell has been outstanding,” McVay told reporters during offseason work. “He’s been a real bright spot, very comfortable. You can see just the comfort in playing a lot of snaps last year, gaining some confidence and then being able to move around. That’ll be really valuable.”
The Rams need some receivers to support star Cooper Kupp, who’s working his way back from a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery. Florida product Van Jefferson is expected to take on the No. 2 receiver role with Allen Robinson moving on.
Ben Skowronek provides versatility with his ability to play all over the field and also be used as a fullback in the running game. Rookie Puka Nacua showed some potential during training camp, and the Rams signed veterans Tyler Johnson and Demarcus Robinson to fill out the room.
But Atwell, who ran a 4.32 40 at his pro day two years ago, can consistently take the top off the defense with his deep speed. According to Next Gen Stats, Atwell posted the team’s four fastest speeds of 2022 season as an offensive ball carrier, topping out at 21.6 mph.
Atwell also averaged 16.6 yards per reception last season. That’s an important number for an offense that totaled just 38 passing plays of 20-plus yards, which tied for No. 29 in the NFL. Five of Atwell’s 18 receptions last season were at least 20 yards.
His diminutive size was an issue during his rookie year. But he has learned how to turn his 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame into an asset, particularly running the ball on jets sweeps as he gets lost behind his blockers, making it hard for defenders to find him.
“Tutu’s really taking that next step,” Rams linebacker Ernest Jones told the team’s website. “I’m super impressed with the way he’s just attacking the ball right now. His ability is showing right now. And he has some great ability.”
McVay said another thing helping Atwell is that he’s more familiar with the offense now. And with all the injury issues the Rams dealt with last season, McVay needs as many players who can play different roles as possible.
“If last year taught us anything, you got to be ready for contingency plans,” McVay said. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a role for us [because of] his ability to move around and make sure that we don’t have to have certain guys play every single snap. … He’s a nice complement to some of the other guys that we have, and so I’m really pleased with what he’s done.
“He’s a super smart guy. He’s got a really high capacity as a learner. You could see good, aggressive hands and obviously, he can run and do all those types of things. But he’s becoming a more complete player. Looking forward to seeing what that looks like when the pads come on.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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