Sean McVay got his playmaker: Five takeaways from the Rams’ 2021 draft

Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell runs with the ball during a game.
The Rams selected Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell with their first pick in the NFL draft on Friday. Is Atwell the next Tavon Austin for the Rams?
(Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)

The Rams, without a first-round pick for the fifth consecutive year, selected nine players in the NFL draft, four on offense and five on defense.

Here are five takeaways from the Rams’ 2021 draft:

1. Coach Sean McVay wanted another weapon


The Rams went into the draft having traded for veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford, and then adding veteran deep-threat receiver DeSean Jackson to a position group that includes Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson.

Then they used their first pick — in the second round — to select Louisville receiver Tutu Atwell, a small, speedy player who can stretch a defense vertically on deep routes and horizontally on fly sweeps.

Atwell might turn out to be exactly what the Rams’ offense needs to create bigger plays. He also is something of a deep-threat insurance policy should Jackson suffer injuries as he did the last two seasons.

But for some Rams fans, the pick conjured images of Tavon Austin, who general manager Les Snead drafted with the eighth overall pick in 2013. Austin had productive seasons in St. Louis, but McVay deployed him mainly as a decoy in 2017 before trading him to the Dallas Cowboys.

On Day 3 of the NFL draft, the Rams got help on the defensive front with three picks, traded several lower-round picks, and also added receivers, a cornerback and a running back.

May 1, 2021

2. The Rams think the offensive line is fine… for now


After drafting only one offensive lineman last year — Tremayne Anchrum in the seventh round — Snead did not select one this year.

Despite the departure of center Austin Blythe, the Rams stood pat. McVay once again said that Brian Allen or Coleman Shelton could handle that role.

But Allen has not played since the first part of the 2019 season after undergoing knee surgery. And what of building for the future?

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth will turn 40 this season. Allen, Joe Noteboom, Austin Corbett and Coleman Shelton are in the final years of their contracts.

3. Reinforcements arriving for the defensive front

South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones chases after a play.
South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones could play a valuable role in the Rams’ pass rush in the seasons ahead.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

New defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has four new players to work into the lineup or rotation, which could help fill the void left by the departures of linemen Michael Brockers and Morgan Fox and linebacker Samson Ebukam.

The Rams selected South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones in the third round. Jones joins a position group that features three players — Micah Kiser, Kenny Young and Troy Reeder — in the final year of their contracts.

Tackle Bobby Brown III, a fourth-round pick, and end Earnest Brown IV will give defensive line coach Eric Henderson two players to develop and create depth. Edge rusher Chris Garrett is out to prove the skills he used to set records at Division II Concordia-St. Paul will translate to the NFL.

4. The secondary apparently was not of primary concern

Cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson left the Rams after last season via free agency. Cornerback Darious Williams is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Safety Terrell Burgess is coming off ankle surgery that ended his rookie season.

But the Rams drafted only one defensive back — Central Arkansas cornerback Robert Rochell.

Despite the retirements of Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, the Saints and Colts were well-stocked at quarterback before adding more in the NFL draft.

May 1, 2021

All-Pro Jalen Ramsey and Williams are the starting cornerbacks. Third-year pro David Long, Rochell and, perhaps the versatile Burgess, are among the players who will compete to replace Hill as a slot cornerback.

Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott and Burgess are the safeties.

5. New special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis had a say

Rochell, receiver Jacob Harris, running back Jake Funk and receiver Ben Skowronek were selected with an eye on how they might contribute on special teams.

Atwell returned only four kicks at Louisville, but he also seems like a candidate for a possible role as a kick returner.

The 6-foot-5 Harris and 6-3 Skowronek appear on track for possible hybrid roles in the offense. Harris said he spoke primarily with Rams tight ends coach Wes Phillips before the draft.