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Sample size beware: Rams Tutu Atwell within top 10 PFF grades for receivers

and there are about 95 players between him and Allen Robinson

Carolina Panthers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Baker Mayfield impressed in his Week 14 debut with the Los Angeles Rams, but the receiving corps he was throwing the ball to looked much different than it was supposed to be in 2022.

Cooper Kupp returned from his triple crown season to pick up exactly where he left off, and through nine games he accumulated 98 targets, 75 catches, 812 yards, and 6 TD’s. He also added another 52 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Kupp’s season ended early with an ankle injury suffered on an errant throw by woeful backup quarterback John Wolford.

The absence left by Kupp seemed to be the perfect opportunity for Allen Robinson, who the Rams signed to a large three-year contract in free agency, to show he can contribute in Sean McVay’s absence; however, Robinson played in just one more game before being shut down for the year with a microfracture in his foot. His anemic 2022 production is set in stone at 52 targets, 33 receptions, 339 yards, and 3 TD’s.

Robinson’s stats are a far cry from what Los Angeles expected when they signed the prized free agent this spring.

Fortunately for the Rams, second-year receiver Tutu Atwell has broken out in a big way - and he’s shown through despite McVay and the coaching staff holding him back. Atwell’s opportunities were extremely limited while both Kupp and Robinson were healthy, but over the last several weeks the youngster has been a regular part of the offense and he’s been a promising contributor.

On just 21 targets Atwell has 11 receptions for 237 yards and a TD. He’s also added another 27 yards on the ground and was effective as a runner against the Seattle Seahawks.

Despite his limited playing time, which continues to look like a head-scratching decision by the coaching staff, Atwell is fifth on the 2022 Rams in receiving - behind just Kupp (812 yards; 98 targets), Tyler Higbee (455; 81), Ben Skowronek (373; 58), and Robinson (339; 52). All of these individuals have more than double the number of targets that Atwell has received this year.

But his stats could be even more impressive if it weren’t for three to four games spent with John Wolford or Bryce Perkins throwing him the ball - neither quarterback has been able to push the ball down the field beyond 20 yards or so.

Against the Seahawks - perhaps Atwell’s best game of the season - the speedster had two to three steps on standout corner Tariq Woolen, but Wolford underthrew the ball by at least a good ten yards. Somehow what seemed like a sure touchdown bomb turned into an almost interception.

The analytics and PFF grades also tell us that Atwell has been impressive this season.

The second-year receiver has earned a receiving mark from PFF of 85.0 - good for the seventh best grade at the position. Just in front of him is Cooper Kupp (86.3). The next closest Ram is Brandon Powell at #45 (73.0). Allen Robinson is all the way down at #102 with a receiving grade of 65.8.

21 targets is a small sample size - even below 20% of the league-leading figure of 137. But it’s not Atwell’s fault that he was sparingly involved for the first 10 games of the year - he’s played well when given the chance.

With Mayfield in the fold, Atwell has the opportunity to play with a quarterback that can access every area of the football field - which is important in unlocking the potential for a receiver that specializes in downfield route concepts. Despite having minimal practice time with Mayfield ahead of the Thursday night game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Atwell was able to catch five passes for 50 yards (long of 22). This could be a productive combination over the team’s final four games.

If he keeps performing at the level we’ve seen from him so far, it won’t be long before Atwell sheds the dreaded label of “draft bust” given his former second round status. Atwell has excelled this season despite the coaching staff failing to put him in positions to prove his worth - and he’s shown that he should be a staple in the 2023 offense alongside Kupp.