Rookie Tutu Atwell aims for speedy induction into Rams’ talented receiving rotation

Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell runs with the football.
Even though Tutu Atwell returned just four kicks at Louisville, the Rams are going to give him a try as a returner.
(Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)

Trading for Matthew Stafford qualified as only one piece of the puzzle.

Rams coach Sean McVay was not about to let the veteran quarterback arrive on the scene without adding a speedy receiver to exploit Stafford’s strong right arm and deep-ball capability.

So, the Rams added not one but two players that can stretch the field.


In March, they signed veteran DeSean Jackson. Then they used their first pick in the NFL draft to select Tutu Atwell in the second round.

Those receivers, along with Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and second-year pro Van Jefferson, give McVay and Stafford multiple options.

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Defenses beware, Woods said.

“We’re going to be coming at ‘em with a lot of speed, a lot of weapons in our rotation,” Woods said this week in a videoconference after an organized-team activity workout. “We’re just loaded at the receiver position. Throughout the game, you’ll be getting hit with a lot of different type of styles.”

Woods, an eight-year veteran, and Kupp, entering his fifth NFL season, established themselves as 1,000-yard receivers in previous seasons. Each received a lucrative contract extension in 2020.

But McVay and general manager Les Snead, who equipped previous offenses with deep-ball threats such as Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks, failed to provide the offense with that option last season. Quarterback Jared Goff’s longest completion was a 56-yard touchdown to Woods.

Seeking more explosive plays, the Rams in January traded Goff and two first-round draft picks to the Detroit Lions for Stafford. Then they found him more targets.


Jackson, 34, has been one of the NFL’s most dynamic deep threats for most of his 13-year career. Injuries limited him to eight games the last two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he will enter the 2021 season with 56 touchdowns and career average of 17.4 yards per catch.

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Atwell, listed at 5-feet-9 and 165 pounds, caught 20 touchdown passes and averaged 16.6 yards per catch in three seasons at Louisville. After the Rams drafted him with the 57th overall pick, McVay described him as “a big-time gift.”

The Rams’ veteran receivers, Atwell said, are helping him acclimate. Jackson has told Atwell to be patient running routes — “It’s all about timing,” Atwell said — and he is confident that everything else will come in time.

“They set the tone,” Atwell said of the veterans, “and I follow.”

Woods only has been on the field with Atwell for a few days, but said the Florida native plays with “a ton of heart and speed” that will help the offense.

“You’ve got to play with swagger,” Woods said. “He has that attitude and knows how to do things with the ball in his hands.”

Rams receivers Cooper Kupp (18) and Robert Woods meet on the field.
Cooper Kupp (18) and Robert Woods are the Rams’ top receivers.
(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

Atwell said he has never paid attention to those who questioned his size. Instead, he said he focused on doing whatever was necessary to play at the next level of competition.

“I just play with a lot of swag,” he said. “If you don’t have swag, the game won’t be fun, so you got to put your own little swag to it.”

Atwell does not consider himself a one-dimensional deep threat. He said that he was fully capable of catching balls over the middle.

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“A big part of it, honestly, is having heart,” he said. “I feel like if you don’t have heart then you shouldn’t be playing football — and that’s one thing I got. So big hits, I’m going to get up. Any type of hit, I’m going to get back up.”

New special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis also is expected to give Atwell opportunities as a kick returner. Atwell returned only four kicks at Louisville — he averaged 21 yards per return — and said returning punts for the Rams “would be a big deal for me.”

But this week and next, Atwell and the other receivers mainly will concentrate on establishing rapport and timing with Stafford.

During workouts, Stafford has sought feedback from receivers about routes and where they like to catch the ball.

When they are studying film individually, Woods said he will record a clip and send it to Stafford with a message such as, “Hey, we haven’t run that concept, but if I get the ball here in this window, this is a great area for us to have being able to have yards after the catch.”

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During meetings, Woods said he can whisper, “Hey, if you can throw this backside, I’ll be open for you.’ Just little things like that, communication, building trust so when you do have these looks in the game it’s like you already had a mental rep.”

The goal, Woods said, is to empower all Rams receivers to have confidence in being playmakers.

“As soon as you get in … if it’s your rotation, that you’re out there and you have the confidence that you’re the best on the field and you can make the same plays and dominate like you always have,” he said.