Rams add a little speed with diminutive Louisville WR Atwell

·3 min read

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Rams selected Louisville receiver Tutu Atwell with their first pick in the draft Friday night, supplementing their group of pass-catchers for Matthew Stafford with even more speed.

The Rams used the 57th overall pick on the diminutive Atwell in a mild surprise for a team that lost four defensive starters to free agency and a trade in the off-season .

The Rams also signed speedy veteran receiver DeSean Jackson in the off-season . Los Angeles still chose a receiver with the 57th overall pick for the second consecutive season after drafting Florida’s Van Jefferson in the same spot.

The 5-foot-9 Atwell usually weighs under 160 pounds, which would make him one of the smallest players on any NFL field. That doesn't scare Atwell, a former high school quarterback who is used to exceeding expectations.

“I just need the ball in my hands, and I’ll show you everything else,” Atwell said. "I give you my word. I'm a great receiver. When the ball is in my hands, I know what to do with it.”

Atwell's greatest asset is his pure speed, and Rams coach Sean McVay has spoken frequently about his desire to use more field-stretching offensive sets that can exploit his receivers' quickness. While Jefferson and starters Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are all considered technically skilled possession receivers, Jackson and Atwell can provide the pure speed McVay coveted.

The Rams’ biggest off-season acquisition is obviously Stafford, who takes over for Jared Goff this fall — but Atwell's selection is another symbol of the Rams' clear commitment to recapture the offensive form of McVay's first two seasons, when they ranked among the NFL's highest-scoring teams with their wunderkind coach's inventive schemes.

The Rams' offensive production has declined sharply in the last two seasons, when they sat near the middle of the league and relied heavily on the NFL's No. 1-ranked defence .

McVay and the Rams were locked in on Atwell early: The receiver said he had two Zoom meetings and other conversations with the Rams, who told him they didn't intend to let him get out of the second round. Atwell said he already knows some things about McVay's offence after watching film of the Rams' slot receivers at Louisville over the past few years.

“The coaches told me I could be a good fit for their offence and how they're going to use me,” Atwell said. “So I wasn't surprised. Coach kept his word, and I appreciate that.”

Atwell is a Miami native who earned first-team all-ACC honours last season while leading the conference with 1,276 yards receiving and 12 TDs on 70 catches. He has a three-year history of game-breaking plays and long TDs, two abilities clearly coveted by McVay.

Los Angeles is counting on replenishing its depleted depth with this pick and two third-round selections after using its highest pick to secure proven NFL talent.

The Rams didn't make a first-round selection Thursday for the fifth consecutive season, and they don't have a first-round pick in the next two drafts, either. They traded what became the 25th overall pick in late 2019 to Jacksonville in the deal for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

The Rams entered the draft with obvious needs in the defensive secondary, on the offensive line and in their group of linebackers.

Los Angeles has made three playoff appearances in four years under McVay, including last season. Much of the top-level talent that led the Rams to 11 victories and the divisional round last season is still under contract, but they also lost several key starters including safety John Johnson, defensive lineman Michael Brockers and centre Austin Blythe.

Los Angeles has one fourth-round compensatory pick Saturday at 141st overall, followed by picks in the sixth (209) and seventh (252) rounds.

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Greg Beacham, The Associated Press