Despite a slender build and limited length, Louisville’s Tutu Atwell became one of the most explosive and productive wide receivers in the ACC. After a commendable but unmemorable freshman campaign (24 catches for 406 yards and two scores), Atwell blew up as a sophomore, hauling in 70 passes for an ACC-best and school-record 1,276 yards. That season put Atwell on the NFL radar and earned him first-team All-ACC honors.
Atwell followed up his breakthrough year with 46 catches, 625 yards, and seven touchdowns in six starts during the pandemic-affected 2020 season. While a far cry from his 2019 numbers, Atwell still managed to make second team All-ACC.
Few high-end wideout prospects measure in below 5-foot-9. Even fewer come in at just 155 pounds. Atwell represents a statistical outlier from a size perspective, as few NFL receivers taken in any round have become long-term starters at that size. Marquise Brown, the most recent test case for a comparably diminutive wide receiver selected early in the draft, has delivered two fine but decidedly unspectacular seasons. Atwell also hasn’t demonstrated the ability to play bigger than his dimensions by breaking tackles or regularly winning contested catches. A history of drops also presents concerns at the next level.
But while Atwell lacks length, he possesses impressive speed and burst. His 4.35-second 40-yard dash beat all but a few wideouts in his rookie class and his 1.49-second 10-yard split looks even better. Atwell can get behind defenders in a flash and maintain separation. Cornerbacks have little hope of running down Atwell in the open field. NFL offenses adept at manufacturing opportunities in space for gadget players could slice open defenses with his speed and playmaking ability.
Mock Draft landing spots
Few teams have done a better job deploying speedy receivers than the Kansas City Chiefs. Atwell’s size limitations would matter less often in an offense that frequently forces opposing defensive backs to play off coverage. Atwell also wouldn’t have to step into a feature role immediately, as the Chiefs brought back Demarcus Robinson to play alongside Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman.
Fantasy impact: Rookie year
In a loaded receiver class, Atwell seems more likely to start his career in a reserve role rather than a featured one. Accordingly, his usage rate will probably remain low in 2021 as he learns (and struggles with) how to combat press coverage at his size. Atwell also doesn’t figure to see extensive time in the return game, something that could offer upside in deeper fantasy leagues.
Fantasy impact: Career
While small, light wideouts don’t have a great track record in the NFL, Atwell could become a fantasy-relevant receiver in the mold of Taylor Gabriel. Like Atwell, Gabriel spent his entire NFL career as the smallest player on the football field but also one of the fastest. Gabriel hit his stride as the third receiver for the Atlanta Falcons during Kyle Shanahan’s tenure as offensive coordinator, and perhaps Atwell would thrive in a similar, play-action-heavy offense. With clean releases, Atwell could build up his speed and get behind the linebackers and open up the offense vertically.
Still, while Shanahan’s tactics have proliferated across the league, few play-callers have regularly featured weapons like Atwell. More so than most wideouts, Atwell’s landing spot will greatly determine his success in the NFL.