Tutu Atwell hasn't done much to justify his status as a second-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, but the LA Rams' wide receiver could finally make the grade in a new role. Rams' head coach Sean McVay knows Atwell is smart enough and quick enough to thrive from the slot.
A dedicated inside target for Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford can transform McVay's passing schemes. More catches and yards from the slot would also ease the burden on Cooper Kupp to do it all as Stafford's unchallenged No. 1 receiver.
Aside from Kupp, veteran wide receiver, Van Jefferson would benefit from Atwell making the slot role his own. Jefferson is the Rams' lone true burner on the outside, so letting him focus on bossing the perimeter will create matchup advantages for others, including Atwell.
Draft flop primed for bigger things
Atwell is under pressure to deliver in year 3, so he should be encouraged by the positive reinforcement uttered by his head coach:
"I think it’s really early, but Tutu Atwell is a guy that’s really done an excellent job. He’s super smart. Obviously, he’s well known for his speed, but he’s really done a great job in this offseason and it showed up today of really establishing himself, playing with aggressive hands, understanding the nuances of how we want to work edges and separate where he fits within the concepts."- Per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk
McVay's reference to working "the edges" is telling because it implies Atwell would still be able to make big plays on the outside even if he lined up in the slot. Speed remains the core asset in Atwell's game, so it's on McVay to find more ways to let him stretch the field.
One of those ways involved using motion to help free Atwell against the New Orleans Saints last season. The ensuing 62-yard touchdown saw Atwell achieve "a top speed of 21.07 mph," according to Next Gen Stats.
Getting vertical is a category where Atwell knows no equal on the Rams' roster. Not Jefferson, nor a burner like new arrival Demarcus Robinson.
Unleashing Atwell's speed against slot defenders, usually slower than their counterparts on the perimeter, is a matchup win for the Rams. It's also sure to make life easier for Kupp.
Slot role can help Cooper Kupp
Kupp can make plays from anywhere on the field, and he's certainly no slouch between the numbers, but defenses have gotten wise to McVay using the veteran inside. No. 10 played 224 snaps in the slot last season, according to Player Profiler.
Kupp's also 30 and coming off ankle surgery, so he's unlikely to scare any inside coverage deep. It's time for McVay to move Kupp around more often and use Atwell in the slot, where he thrived in college, per Pro Football Focus.
The Rams drafted Atwell at least in part based on numbers like those, but they can still salvage that decision. Deploying Atwell inside would keep a safety deep and create more opportunities to isolate Kupp against linebackers underneath.
Stacking Atwell and Kupp together, preferably alongside tight end Tyler Higbee, will put defenses in a bind about how to matchup. The alignment would also leave Jefferson isolated in a 1-on-1 matchup on the other side, where his speed can make a significant difference.
Letting Atwell play the way that got him drafted opens up more variety for how the Rams attack defenses through the air. The increased creativity will be key to refreshing a formula that had gone stale and getting a once potent offense back on track.