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Breaking down wide receiver Tutu Atwell’s Week 1 performance

wide receiver tutu atwell
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tutu Atwell made quite a bit of noise in Week 2 when he scored two touchdowns and tallied over 100 yards against the Miami defense during Louisville’s 47-34 loss. Unfortunately, college football does not have an online database for me to pay way too much money for the purchase of coaches’ film almost immediately after game’s end. But I was able to get my hands on the Cardinals Week 1 game against Western Kentucky, and their Week 2 game against Miami is on YouTube thanks to the generosity of the ACC Network. So how did Atwell look?

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Atwell is a weapon, not a wide receiver

Quickly, before we get to the film, this needs to be addressed. This young man is a lot of fun when he has the ball in his hands. He is incredibly quick-footed, and despite his lack of leg length, his top gear is about as good as it gets. But he is not a wide receiver at the moment.

Something immediately noticeable on tape is that you have a darned good idea if the Cardinals are running or passing. If Louisville is in 11 personnel and Atwell is not on the field, there’s a good chance the Cardinals are running the ball. Conversely, when he’s on the field they’re either passing it or running away from Atwell. Far away from Atwell. Like, they’ll actually line him up as the lone receiver backside. In the game against Western Kentucky, he threw precisely one half of a block in the run game.

Now, let’s annotate the routes ran by Atwell throughout the game.

27 routes run:

Post – 3
Deep Crosser – 3
Jet pop – 1
Dig – 3
Flat – 7
Fade – 1
Bubble – 4
Deep Out – 1
Short Out – 1
Blaze Out – 1
Corner – 1
Seam – 1
Notice anything about that distribution? Not a single route that forces Atwell to really break down his base and STOP! This isn’t to say that Atwell can’t run a full route tree, just that he currently doesn’t. And it makes some sense because his upright running style along the route stem might preclude him from breaking down efficiently.

Speed kills, and Atwell has it in spades

This play is a norm for Atwell in the Louisville offense. They don’t run it too often throughout the course of a game, but every time they do he’s able to capture the edge. He’s able to widen his path just so slightly to outrun the outstretched arms of defensive ends. From there, his speed makes even a good initial angle taken by the safety ineffective.

Uncovering moving East/West

Atwell is aligned in the left slot here for this rep but was not targeted. This was one of the more impressive routes from Atwell in this game. It may not look like he’s doing much, but with his speed, a little bit can go a long way.

Related | Cummings’ 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft

The unfortunate part about Atwell as a route runner is he is a one-speed guy that runs high. There isn’t a lot going on to mislead off defenders. But on this route, Atwell does a few things well. He starts this route on an inside track from the red line shooting directly downfield from his alignment. This puts his new track straight into the chest of the defender, giving him a two-way go.

As he closes the gap between himself and his defender, he shimmies ever so slightly and elongates his stride toward the defender’s outside shoulder, which forces him to slide right and plant to change direction back inside in an attempt to mirror Atwell. There is a lot of pure athleticism in how Atwell finds space versus man coverage, but there were at least some decent signs here, even if there was room for improvement in the route.

Playing off tendency

This was Atwell’s absolute best route of the day. And he was able to achieve it because of the tendency he has of running the post. Now, from an evaluation standpoint, I really wish this was a blaze out, with him initially aligned outside of the hashes. That would give evaluators a nice example of a more complex route running, but alas.

Deep out

This was fantastic outside of just a bit of downfield drift, which we most likely wouldn’t have seen had he been targeted. He starts the route by firing low and fast, which is a good way to sell a downfield route. At about seven yards or so he peeks inside toward the safety to sell the upcoming post to the cornerback and safety.

The pacing of this route is great too because at around the five-yard mark he gets to the upright position and eases just a bit, creating the ability to either drop back down a gear and drive the post or break down and flip a hard angle either to the dig or out.

Related | Tutu Atwell’s size pushes requirements for the NFL 

At the 10-yard mark, he does a great job selling vertical by elongating his stride again as the cornerback begins to pinch in as Atwell hits the cornerbacks vertical key to the point where he doesn’t suspect a hard-breaking out route. The shoulder tilt and head nod toward the inside seals the deal, as he crosses the face of the cornerback and uncovers.

Waiting to see more

Hopefully, as the season goes on in ACC play we continue to see dominant stat lines from Atwell. He’s a fun offensive weapon that won’t ever be the most well-rounded receiver at the NFL level but could be a fun piece to play with for a creative offensive coordinator.

Seeing a more diverse route tree will be big for evaluators as well, but even if we don’t see a full tree from Atwell it’s not the biggest of deals. He’s the type of player you want catching the ball when he’s on the move, so although you’d like to see whips and returns from him, you don’t necessarily care to see pure stop routes. His pro prospects seem reminiscent of Mecole Hardman, who weighed in over 20 pounds heavier than Atwell’s listed weight.


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