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2021 NFL draft: Can 165-pound Tutu Atwell thrive among the big boys?

Eric Edholm
·21-min read

Leading up to the 2021 NFL draft, which starts April 29, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five for Nos. 100-51, followed by more in-depth reports on our top 50 players, with help from our scouting assistant, Liam Blutman. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Other prospect rankings: Nos. 100-96 | 95-91 | 90-86 | 85-81 | 80-76 | 75-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. OT Liam Eichenberg | 49. WR Terrace Marshall Jr. | 48. LB Chazz Surratt | 47. EDGE Joe Tryon | 46. OT-OG Alex Leatherwood | 45. CB Asante Samuel Jr. | 44. DL Levi Onwuzurike | 43. LB Jabril Cox | 42. DT Daviyon Nixon | 41. EDGE Ronnie Perkins | 40. LB Nick Bolton | 39. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu | 38. WR Elijah Moore | 37. OT Jalen Mayfield | 36. EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. | 35. CB Elijah Molden | 34. RB Travis Etienne | 33. WR Kadarius Toney | 32. EDGE Jayson Oweh | 31. LB Zaven Collins | 30. Christian Barmore

Here are how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Here are how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

85. Alabama OG Deonte Brown

6-foot-3, 364 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.76 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Brown is a bull-strong wide body who flashes light feet but would be more dominant 20 pounds lighter

Games watched: Auburn (2019), Missouri (2020), Texas A&M (2020), Tennessee (2020), Ohio State (2020)

The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit in the 2016 class, Brown took a few seasons before seeing the field. He redshirted in 2016 and was a reserve (35 snaps in 14 games) offensive lineman who saw snaps on field-goal and extra-point tries. In 2018, Brown saw time as a reserve at both guard spots (about 25 snaps per game) until starting five games down the stretch for the national runners-up. He missed parts of two games with a toe injury and was suspended prior to the playoffs. Brown’s suspension carried over for the first four games of the 2019 season, but he started eight of nine games at right guard that season. The redshirt senior returned in 2020, starting all 13 games for the national champs, earning first team All-SEC honors (coaches). He also attended the 2021 Senior Bowl.

Upside: Mass of humanity — almost as wide as he is tall. Dense frame with barrel chest and tree-trunk legs.

Outstanding drive blocker who pushes defenders like most players push a blocking sled — will shove some defensive tackles 5 yards off their spot. Freakish weight-room strength. Underrated feet that keep moving on contact. Will carry a mass advantage against nearly every foe, even in the NFL.

Very effective tandem blocking — lands initial shot, gains displacement and looks for more work. Keeps his body square and maximizes power. Keeps feet underneath him with contact. As strong an anchor as there was in college football the past few seasons.

Actually asked to pull out and lead the run game on the move — can wrap effectively for such a huge man. Stays balanced and disciplined in space. Hands always up and ready to fire out. Nice wide pass-blocking stance and able to redirect counter rushes and DL twists and stunts. Good vision and technique — well-coached and it shows.

Alabama OG Deonte Brown is a massive drive blocker whose weight needs to get under control. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)
Alabama OG Deonte Brown is a massive drive blocker whose weight needs to get under control. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)

Handled Auburn’s Derrick Brown (No. 7 overall pick of Carolina Panthers in 2020) about as well as anyone in 2019. Played both guard spots extensively. Played well in both playoff games and was tested weekly in feast-or-famine SEC. Zero sacks allowed in nearly 1,000 career pass-blocking reps.

Showed steady improvement with each passing season. Technique issues of his early starts were not visible on 2020 tape. Rarely overaggressive and under control extensively.

Downside: Doesn’t possess NFL-caliber quickness. Will always be at a disadvantage pass blocking athletic 3-techniques — think Aaron Donald — in upfield rush schemes. Doesn’t possess the athletic skill or reactionary timing to cut off blitzing back-seven defenders. Feet must be faster to hold up against NFL rushers.

Not effective getting to second level on screens. Looked sluggish when asked to do so at Senior Bowl. Getting to the edge in the run game will be tougher against NFL defenders — heavy, lumbering mover past 4-5 yards. Has trouble locating and adjusting to landmarks.

Battled weight issues (was up around 400 pounds as a freshman) and inconsistency early in his career. Would be a monster if he dropped 20-25 pounds and kept the weight off. Suspended six games over two seasons in 2018 and 2019 by NCAA.

Lacks great length for such a big man — short arms (32 3/8 inches) and smallish hands (9 1/8 inches). Can be long-armed and lose leverage. Doesn’t grab and drive and can fall off blocks too quickly at times. Isn’t the ornery slobber knocker you might expect.

Guard only (other than emergency situations) and more likely a right guard, which he hasn’t played since 2019.

Best-suited destination: Brown is meant for a gap-blocking scheme where his power can help pave the ground game and where he’s not asked to handle elite quickness inside without help. His length and weight might turn some teams off, but for power-blocking systems and run-heavy teams (Raiders, Seahawks, Dolphins, Bills, Titans, Patriots, e.g.) he’d be a nice fit.

Did you know: Brown is good friends with former Bama OL and Ravens starter Bradley Bozeman. When Brown texts or calls Bozeman’s cell, his name shows up as “Cornbread” — Bozeman’s nickname for Brown.

Player comp: A slightly less talented Damien Lewis, who was a rookie standout for the Seattle Seahawks in 2020. We can’t help but wonder what Brown might be if he dropped 20 pounds. Perhaps he’d look like Patriots 2020 sixth-rounder Michael Onwenu, who was one of the best rookie linemen in football last year.

Expected draft range: Rounds 2 or 3

84. Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell

5-foot-11, 195 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.77 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Highly productive, undersized and inexperienced weapon out of the backfield who can also boost a passing game

Games watched: Ole Miss (2019), South Alabama (2019), Tulane (2019), Penn State (2019)

The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit (after playing QB in high school), Gainwell committed to the Tigers initially as a receiver but played the first four games of his freshman season at running back — even rushing for a 72-yard TD vs. Georgia State — before redshirting. (The Tigers featured Patrick Taylor, Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard in the backfield that year). In 2019, he became Memphis’ leading rusher, even keeping Washington Football Team 2020 third-rounder Antonio Gibson at receiver more often. Gainwell gained 2,069 yards from scrimmage (1,459 rushing, 610 receiving) and scored 16 TDs (13 rushing, three receiving), earning AAC Rookie of the Year honors and named first-team all-conference. He opted out of the 2020 season and declared early for the 2021 draft.

Upside: Outstanding production in small sample size. Big-play machine — registered 23 plays of 20-plus yards in 2019, tied for third in the country that season behind LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase (29) and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and tied with Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden Jr. Had a gain of at least 25 or more yards in 12 of 14 games that season.

Really nice initial burst, light feet and change-of-direction skill. Has a knack for making the first defender miss. Subtle cuts in tight quarters make him a tricky tackle. Slashing running style to work back against the grain — always looking for a back door to escape from.

Took snaps as “Wildcat” QB (was a run-first QB in high school), lined up in the slot and out wide and was featured in the backfield. Some NFL teams have kicked around the idea of moving him to slot receiver.

Talented pass catcher who grabs the ball in stride and can run a diverse route tree for a back. Surprisingly effective in pass protection — scans the front well and typically finds the leaks he needs to plug. Check out this whopper of a shoulder chip Gainwell gives Penn State’s Micah Parsons in the 2019 bowl game:

Watch Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell drill Penn State's Micah Parsons with a shoulder in pass protection.
Watch Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell drill Penn State's Micah Parsons with a shoulder in pass protection.

Tough and determined. Runs hard and scraps for every extra inch. Against Ole Miss, Gainwell turns what could have been a 3-yard gain into a 10-yarder and a first down, slipping past one tackle and breaking two more:

Kenneth Gainwell finds ways to pinball off defenders and gain more yards than plays are blocked for.
Kenneth Gainwell finds ways to pinball off defenders and gain more yards than plays are blocked for.

Handled heavy workload in 2019 — averaged more than 20 touches per game. Plenty of tread left on his tires — only 292 career touches and he preserved his body in 2020. Good ball security, too — zero lost fumbles in his career (did put two balls on the ground that Memphis recovered).

Ate up a solid Tulane defense in 2019 on 18 rushes, 104 yards, TD; nine catches, 203, two scores — becoming the first player since 1997 to surpass 100 yards rushing yards and 200 receiving in a game.

Downside: Inexperienced. Gainwell has only 723 college snaps in 18 games. One-year starter — it will be close to 20 months since his last game when he next takes the field. Effectiveness waned down the stretch in 2019. Might never be a volume back in the NFL. Hardly used on special teams — unclear if he even has return potential.

Good but hardly game-breaking long speed — won’t outrun DBs. Lean frame that might not have much more room for added body armor. Played with admirable fearlessness but might need to better protect himself to ensure a longer career. Like Tarik Cohen early in his NFL career, Gainwell must avoid contact better. Has a slot receiver’s build.

Pacing as a runner could be better — sometimes presses the hole too fast or doesn’t wait for blocks to develop. Not overly creative in open spaces.

Typically displayed good, reliable hands but also guilty of a few ugly drops in 2019. Effective at chip blocking and unafraid of contact but could do a better job squaring up — NFL defenders will adjust to his high shoulders.

Best-suited destination: Gainwell would be ideal in a zone-blocking system as a runner and used heavily as a receiver. It’s not that he can’t run inside, but for self-preservation purposes, giving him a measured workload and not asking him to ram it inside 10-12 times a game feels like the best plan. He also could work out of the slot and be effective on trick plays. A team such as the New York Jets or New England Patriots that need to generate yards any way they can would do well by considering Gainwell.

Did you know: One of Gainwell’s brothers, Kory, joined the Tigers football team prior to the 2020 season. Another brother, Curtis Jr., suffered a stroke while weightlifting as he tried to be a walk-on at Southern Mississippi. The stroke has led to multiple brain surgeries and ended Curtis’ football career.

Player comp: Similar prospect to 2019 seventh-rounder Myles Gaskin but with more upside as a receiver.

Expected draft range: Top-100 pick

83. North Carolina State DT Alim McNeill

6-foot-2, 320 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.77 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Run-stuffing nose tackle who surprises with his natural athleticism and flexibility

Games watched: Wake Forest (2020), Virginia (2020), Miami (2020), Florida State (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (No. 249 nationally) in 2018, McNeill converted from middle linebacker and short-yardage runner to the defensive line. He put on weight steadily throughout his career, starting once and playing extensively as a freshman when he had 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. In 2019, McNeill started the final eight games at nose tackle and collected 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 12 total games. As a junior in 2020, he was named second-team AP All-American and first-team All-ACC, totaling 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one interception in 11 games (10 starts). McNeill opted out of the Wolfpack’s bowl game and declared early for the 2021 draft.

Upside: Natural athlete with nice mix of flexibility and power — broad-framed yet light on his feet. Big, thick, well-proportioned frame to withstand a beating. Power in lower body to match. Impressive upper-body strength as well.

Prep linebacker and short-yardage back who moves well for a man his size and is extremely quick off the ball. Reportedly has vertical-jumped 32 inches, could run a sub-5.0 40-yard dash and has benched 445 pounds and squatted 640, according to The Athletic.

North Carolina State NT Alim McNeill (No. 29) showed steady improvement over his career and has surprising athhleticism. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
North Carolina State NT Alim McNeill (No. 29) showed steady improvement over his career and has surprising athleticism. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Uses snap quickness and explosion to tax burly guards and undersized centers. Caves in offensive lines and wrecks blocking schemes. Drew double teams and came up with better solutions to defeat them last season.

Found ways into the backfield despite almost exclusively lined up as a nose or shade. Good body control — doesn’t end up on the ground a lot. Disruptive even when he’s not making a play on the ball. Good two-gap ability to keep linebackers clean.

Excellent run defender. Struggled to finish some plays earlier in his career but cleaned a lot of that up this past season. Displayed fascinating rush skill earlier in his career when allowed to stunt, man only a single gap or line up in different spots.

Good motor. Rarely gets completely stymied and will power through block attempts. Could be tried as short-yardage fullback in jumbo goal-line sets — backfield experience in high school.

Downside: Squatty frame with less-than-ideal length. Best working over the center. Could be a one-position player in the NFL — might lack desired length to handle extensive duty as a 3-4 end. Appears to have short arms for his position. Contains gaps but still isn’t a big playmaker.

Pass-rush plan typically is to batter the opponent — no obvious go-to moves in his tool bag yet. Could use a pass-rush coach to teach him better hand use and leverage tricks. Pad level needs to be lower more consistently.

Most effective when snaps managed — had some of his better games when snap counts were kept around 40 per game. Might require a rotational role for maximum effectiveness.

Best-suited destination: McNeill should make his impact felt on run downs and won’t embarrass himself in passing situations but might never be a true interior pass rusher. He likely profiles as a nose or shaded nose for a two-gap team but is quick enough to handle some one-gap assignments and even kick out as a 4i-technique if needed.

Did you know: McNeill was a talented prep baseball player, too — and he wanted to play both sports for the Wolfpack. It didn’t work out, but McNeill was a right fielder who batted .355 as a senior and was a three-time all-conference pick.

“I’ve been playing baseball longer than football,” he told The News & Observer after committing to N.C. State. “My dad put me in [the sport] when I was 5 or 6 and I’ve just been playing ever since at a high level of competition.

“At 9 years old we were going to Georgia for the weekend playing in the World Series and stuff. ... I don’t want to give up either one. I just want to play both as long as I can. It would be a very hard choice [if I had to choose between the two], but if I had to make a choice, baseball would be my choice.”

Player comp: 2017 second-rounder Dalvin Tomlinson

Expected draft range: Round 2 or 3

82. Louisville WR Tutu Atwell

5-foot-8, 164 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.78 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Minuscule, electric home-run threat whose size and limitations will complicate his evaluation and system fit

Games watched: Notre Dame (2019), Clemson (2019), Western Kentucky (2020), Virginia Tech (2020)

The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit as an “athlete” out of the Miami area, Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell converted from high school QB to college receiver with the Cardinals. Atwell played immediately as a freshman, starting two of 12 games in 2018 and catching 24 passes for 406 yards and two TDs. He experienced a breakout in 2019, leading the ACC in receiving yards (1,276) on 70 catches with 12 TDs, also averaging 21 yards on four punt returns. In 2020, Atwell caught 46 passes for 625 yards and seven TDs in nine games (seven starts), earning first-team all-conference honors his final two years. He opted out for the final game of the season and declared early for the 2021 draft.

Upside: Big-play threat every single time he touches the ball. Defenders must come with population to make sure he’s down. Wasn’t a huge tackle breaker, per se, but his electric speed and quickness typically made that point moot. Can shock defenders by hitting a third gear most of them don’t possess — varied speeds and made would-be tacklers look foolish at times.

Elite athletic traits — lightning in a bottle. Should test with outstanding numbers in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill and shuttle drills. Tremendous deep speed that can be used to dictate coverage and occupy safeties. Good luck catching him with the ball in his hands. Explosive burst to hit the corner like a rocket.

Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell is a lean, big-play machine. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell is a lean, big-play machine. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Highly productive over his final two seasons — nine 100-yard receiving games and 18 TDs grabs. Didn’t require high volume of targets to amass chunks of yards — averaged more than 10 yards per target in his career. Tracks the deep ball nicely and shows good body control to haul in off-target throws downfield.

Trick-play weapon. Has taken snaps under center — had a 33-yard TD pass in 2019. Can line up in the backfield and be used on jet sweeps and end arounds.

Suffered through inconsistent QB play in his college career. Got open deep plenty yet didn’t always see the ball.

Downside: Built like a welterweight — extremely small build with little mass. The list of players who have been great at that size isn’t long — small even by slot-receiver standards. Extremely thin with lean ankles. Didn't add much mass over three years in college. Might prove to be even smaller than listed height and weight.

Can’t run a full route tree. Limited usage — most of his targets were short or long, layups and three-pointers. Ineffective going over the middle to make plays in traffic. Likely resigned to a “gadget” role in the NFL.

Small hands. Dropped about one out of every 20 balls thrown his way. Won’t offer much, if anything, in contested situations — lacks the length and play strength to battle for 50-50 balls anywhere on the field. Had passes knocked away at the catch point.

Route discipline is not up to snuff. Must learn how to get off press coverage (if he’s even asked to do it). Likely will be a full-time slot/gadget. Could require creative offensive coordinator to manufacture touches.

Limited special-teams experience — only four punt returns, all in 2019. No kickoff experience. Likely won’t have a lot of utility on special-teams coverage units.

Best-suited destination: The team that drafts Atwell must have a defined plan for him. He’s likely never going to develop into a diverse, 65-snap receiver, so he must be unleashed in a calculated way to maximize his effectiveness. But with blurring speed and big-play ability, he’d be an asset in any offense that wants to mimic a fast-break pace like the Chiefs.

Did you know: The original “Tutu” was Chatarius’ father who played receiver at Minnesota and caught 171 passes (fourth-most in Golden Gophers history) for 2,640 yards (fourth-most) and 17 TDs (sixth-most). As a senior in 1997, the elder Atwell also ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns and threw a 31-yard TD pass.

Player comp: Not as gifted an all-around receiver/returner as, say, DeSean Jackson, Atwell looks like a supercharged version of a Taylor Gabriel or JaKeem Grant or perhaps similar to Broncos 2020 second-rounder KJ Hamler.

Expected draft range: Rounds 3 or 4

81. Oklahoma C Creed Humphrey

6-foot-4, 320 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.78 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Sound, smart and steady pivot with wrestling background and the demeanor and approach to be a 12-year pro

Games watched: Alabama (2018), Baylor (2019), Iowa State (2020), Oklahoma State (2020), Florida (2020)

The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit from rural Oklahoma, Humphrey received scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama but seemed destined to end up a Sooner. After redshirting in 2017, Humphrey won the starting center job in 2018 and was named second-team all-Big 12 (media) and honorable mention (coaches) for the Joe Moore Award-winning OU line. As a redshirt sophomore in 2019, Humphrey was named a second-team AP All-American, was one of three finalists for the Rimington Trophy (given to the nation’s top center) and was selected as the Big 12 Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year. Following his 2020 season, in which he was named third-team AP All-American and Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year, Humphrey declared for the 2021 draft. He competed at the 2021 Senior Bowl.

Upside: Experienced leader who played nearly 2,500 snaps in three seasons and appeared in three conference-title games and two CFP games. High floor as a prospect — should be ready to compete for a starting job on Day 1.

Nice combination of strength and smarts. Displayed poise and excellent technique as redshirt freshman in 2018 on the Joe Moore Award-winning Sooners line that saw the other four starters get drafted — looked and played like an upperclassman who was one of the leaders of that unit. Battled Quinnen Williams as well as you could have hoped, head to head, that season.

Handled line checks and protection adjustments for NFL QBs Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts and future NFL QB Spencer Rattler. Zero sacks allowed over three seasons. Sets his hands and feet well after the snap and has good upper-body strength to handle defenders’ initial shock. High school wrestler who plays the leverage game extremely well.

Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey has the look of a solid, 12-year pro. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey has the look of a solid, 12-year pro. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Credited with possessing natural leadership skills. Well-liked and respected by OU teammates and coaches. Looks to have a pro-ready mentality. Solid week at Senior Bowl — took snaps at guard and center and looked fluid and effective in pass-rush drills. Finishes blocks and plays with a vet’s savvy.

Downside: Good but hardly great athlete. Lateral movement skill is just OK. Reaches second level but isn’t as effective working in space. Might have sub-par length — arm length appears to be below desired benchmark.

Profiles as a good prospect but with a limited ceiling. Played only center in college (although he practiced at guard and played there at the Senior Bowl).

Got worked over by Baylor’s Bravvion Roy (2020 Panthers sixth-rounder) in Big 12 title game in 2019. Squatty, powerful d-linemen seemed to give him trouble. Will show some nastiness at times, but it’s inconsistent.

Not a finesse blocker but hardly a mauler either. Lack of dominant reps against top competition. Solid drive blocker but not a road grader in the run game.

Racked up some penalties — 14 over three seasons. Left-handed center, which could be a short-term adjustment for quarterbacks taking snaps from center.

Best-suited destination: How about a team like the Miami Dolphins? Humphrey’s intangibles are likely to fit well with Brian Flores’ team that has a need on the inside of its line. Plus, we could have a lefty center snapping to a lefty QB (if Tua Tagovailoa isn’t traded), which might be an NFL first.

Did you know: A lifelong Sooners fan, Creed and his father, Chad, often went to football games together. They also shared a bond over wrestling. Chad was an All-America wrestler at Central Oklahoma, and Creed took up the sport at age 4.

Player comp: Humphrey can become the next Ryan Jensen — a former sixth-round center who has carved out a nice career with the Ravens and Buccaneers.

Expected draft range: Rounds 2 or 3

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