The Green Bay Packers need an infusion of playmaking ability at the wide receiver position. Check out why Louisville’s Tutu Atwell could be the playmaker they select in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Since taking over as general manager of the Green Bay Packers in 2018, Brian Gutekunst has sat in the Captain’s Chair of the Packers NFL Draft war room three times. During those three drafts, the Packers have selected three wide receivers. All three of those wide receivers were taken on day three of the 2018 draft.
The first of the three was a fourth-round pick, J’Mon Moore. The Missouri Tiger product struggled with drops and was cut before the start of the 2019 season.
The second of the three was Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Valdes-Scantling was taken in the fifth round. The South Florida product had a solid rookie season, as he recorded 38 receptions for 581 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
This past season Valdes-Scantling caught 26 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns. Most of that production occurred early in the season, as he pulled a disappearing act down the stretch. Following week seven, Valdes-Scantling caught just five passes for 36 yards and no touchdowns.
The third wide receiver selected was Equanimeous St. Brown. The Green Bay Packers selected the former Notre Dame standout in round six. St. Brown flashed as a rookie, recording 21 receptions for 328 yards while playing in just 12 games. St. Brown spent his second year in the league on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
One thing all three of those wide receivers have in common is they are all big-bodied receivers. All three of them stand 6’3” or taller.
It’s far too early to tell if Gutekunst has a type when it comes to wide receivers. It’s just too small of a sample size. But consider that Allen Lazard, a player that he brought in is 6’5”, and Devin Funchess, a wide receiver he signed this offseason is 6’4. The evidence suggests that Gutekunst prefers taller wide receivers.
With all those trees inside the Green Bay Packers’ wide receivers room, it’s time for Gutekunst to branch out by adding a smaller, more shifty receiver. A player that fits the bill is Louisville’s, Tutu Atwell.
Atwell burst onto the scene in 2019, setting the program record for receiving yards in a season. He finished the season with 69 receptions for 1,272 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“This is a perfect example of a talented player being used to the best of his abilities,” Carter Donnick, a scouting assistant for The Draft Network said. “Accounting for over 38% of Louisville’s total receiving yards and touchdowns in 2019, Atwell was the catalyst of that dynamic offense, excelling from a strict slot-only role.”
“He only asked to run routes he was comfortable with, Atwell dominated primarily on posts and corners in a vertical passing attack that tailored to his skill set. Some of his short to intermediate touches were admittedly schemed, but Atwell also created much more for himself than given credit for.”
The name of the game is speed, and Atwell is an absolute speed merchant. His elite quickness gives defenses absolute fits. That blazing speed landed him number six on Bruce Feldman’s annual “College Football Freaks List”.
“Atwell is 5-9, 190 but he can squat triple his body weight, he can bench press double his body weight and he has blinding speed with a 4.26 40 and a 3.9 short shuttle.”
With his speed, Louisville did a great job of getting him manufactured touches. He was utilized a lot on jet sweeps and wide receiver screens. That world-class speed is Atwell’s greatest strength according to Donnick.
“This is a sub 4.4 guy who looks every bit that fast out on the football field,” Donnick said. “He takes advantage of that burst on a routine basis and excels as a YAC producer on screens, jet sweeps, and vertical shots.”
After the catch, Atwell is a blur. He is a threat to take it to the house anytime he has the ball in his hands. His catch and go ability might be the best in the 2021 class. According to Pro Football Focus, Atwell averaged over 16 yards after the catch.
“It’s apparent when watching Atwell that he possesses rare speed. His after-the-catch ability is some of the best in all of college football, allowing him to wreck defenses on screens. Atwell earned a 93.8 receiving grade on screens in 2019 (only receiver above 90.0) and averaged over 16 yards after the catch.
However, he doesn’t generate all of his value on screens. His 4.26 speed allows him to get behind defenses with ease. Atwell had 13 targets that came 20-plus yards downfield in which he was deemed open (more than a couple of steps of separation), which led the FBS.”
Due to his frame (5’9” and 165 pounds), Atwell isn’t going to be truck-sticking any defenders. Instead, he is going to win after the catch with his 4.26 speed. Donnick said that Atwell does a great job of erasing pursuit angles with his speed.
“Tutu has a strong understanding of leverage and can easily erase angles on the perimeter or finagle his way through defenses in the middle sections of the field,” Donnick said. “Given his minuscule size, he offers very little in terms of contact balance and physicality, but it doesn’t overly matter given the gadget capacity he’s used in.”
As a route runner, Atwell wasn’t asked to run an expansive route tree in 2019. The name of the game was to get him the ball on screens, drags, posts and flys. He mastered the routes that he was asked to run, displaying quick feet. He was crisp in and out of his breaks, with no wasted movement.
“On the routes he did run (primarily posts, fly routes, and corners), Atwell did show a surprising amount of nuance, demonstrating the ability to attack blindspots and set up double moves with precision and detail,” Donnick said.
“The problem was that he just wasn’t asked to run anything too complicated, which means that this question is still sort of unanswered. It’s not to say he can’t do it, but as of right now he’s limited in terms of both positional alignment and route usage.”
A big question mark for Atwell is his slender frame. At 5’9” and just 165 pounds, teams may question how he’ll hold up at the next level. In order for him to have success at the next level, he’ll need to go to a team that will utilize his strengths.
“In an NFL that is relying less and less on size at the WR position, Atwell is entering the league at the right time,” Donnick said. “Now, this isn’t to say that being just a shade over 5-foot-9, 160 pounds isn’t a pretty major issue, but as we’ve seen with guys like Marquise Brown and even Tyreek Hill (best-case scenario) in recent years, there is a pathway for him to have success.
In order to overcome this hurdle, though, Atwell will need to go to an offense that treats him for who he is – a dynamic vertical threat who excels with his strong understanding of speed and leverage. Ask him to try and excel at the catch point or bully corners with toughness and you’ll be sorely disappointed.”
Due to his size, Atwell may not be on Green Bay’s big board. He’s only 5’9” and since the Ron Wolf era, the Green Bay Packers have never drafted a wide receiver that wasn’t 5’10” or taller.
For a team that needs playmakers at the wide receiver position, Atwell would make a ton of sense. As a group, the Green Bay Packers wide receivers forced only nine missed tackles in 2019. They desperately need an infusion of talent at that position. Atwell is an explosive playmaker and would give Matt LaFleur a versatile chess piece to play with.
There’s always a first for everything, and with Atwell’s game-breaking speed, one better believe that if Atwell is on the board when the Green Bay Packers are on the clock in the second or third round, they’ll think long and hard about taking the shifty slot receiver.