'Everything you want': Drake London wanted to be a Falcon, Atlanta wanted Drake London
Drake London was the first receiver taken in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft Thursday night. The USC wideout who only appeared in eight games due to injury was selected eighth overall by the Atlanta Falcons.
It would seem concerns about his speed were a bit overblown.
“When a team’s defense is structured to take one guy away and he still succeeds, it catches your eye quick,” said Atlanta area scout Joel Collier, per the Falcons.
When healthy, the 6-foot-4 London played like one of the best receivers in the country last season. Even though he only played in eight games, he was selected to the FWAA All-American team as a second-teamer and to the AP All-American team as a third-teamer. He was a first-team All-American selection by PFF after recording the highest receiving grade by a Pac-12 player in the outlet’s history (they began grading college players in 2014).
A fractured ankle suffered against Arizona on Oct. 30 forced London to miss the final third of USC’s season, and yet he still finished as the Pac-12’s leader in receptions, yardage, 20-plus-yard receptions, and contested catches (per PFF). At the rate London was going before his injury, he would have ended a full season ranked second nationally in receptions and third in yardage.
London also led the country in contested catches, per PFF, registering 19 in eight games. He was on pace for 28; no one else in the country had more than 16.
“Everybody knew where the ball was going,” London said at his individual Pro Day earlier this month. “I had triple coverage, double coverage all game, and it still didn’t stop me. So whatever they say about (his ability to separate), I could care less.”
But those contested catches became a topic of conversation throughout the pre-draft process. If he had so many of them, was that because he couldn’t separate?
“In this business, you can sit there and worry about numbers and length and all these kinds of things, but just throw the tape on,” Collier said. “The kid has skill that’s worthy of the eighth pick in the draft.”
London said during his draft night press conference that Atlanta was where he wanted to be. He clicked with the coaches, he appreciated the direction of the offense. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’ll get to play alongside tight end Kyle Pitts, a matchup problem in his own right.
“Me and Kyle,” London said, “could be something special.”
With the 6-foot-6 Pitts (68 receptions for 1,026 yards as a rookie) lining up all over and Cordarrelle Patterson coming out of the backfield, new quarterback Marcus Mariota is going to have some pieces in the passing game.
“Two big dudes out there on the perimeter, I feel like it’s a pretty good analogy to say we’re twin towers,” London said of playing with Pitts. “Obviously I’ve gotta earn my stripes in order to get on the field with him, but at the same time, if we do (play together), I feel like it’s a good nickname.”
London says he’s fully healthy.
“I’m not looking to have any handouts given to me,” London said when asked about his role. He mentioned multiple times he knows he’ll need to earn his keep. But, with the Falcons losing Calvin Ridley—a first-round wideout from the 2018 class—to a season-long suspension, the Falcons will be looking for a new No. 1 wideout. And they say they knew the run on wideouts Thursday night during the draft’s opening round—six total picked between Nos. 8 and 18—was coming.
London was the top player on the board.
If he’s healthy and ready to go at the start of the season, he could be in line to see an outsized role off the bat. Atlanta didn’t question him about his speed or his decision not to run the 40-yard dash at his individual pro day. Atlanta was, however, questioned by media during the team’s press conference after the draft.
At one point, coach Arthur Smith and GM Terry Fontenot were asked if they had London run a 40 during their private workouts and what that time was if they did.
“We worked him out so we felt pretty comfortable with his speed and everything on the tape,” Smith told reporters. “We’re not going to discuss internal measurements we have on guys. Just watch the tape, he’s plenty fast enough.”
As the same questions persisted—was his speed a concern?—Smith interrupted a reporter to ask if they had watched him in the slot.
“The guy’s a dynamic player,” Smith said. “He plays a lot of positions. He’s everything you want in mental makeup. He’s wired the right way. We’re excited as hell that he’s a part of the Falcons.”
Teams will be hard-pressed to try and take away both London and Pitts. When Atlanta plays teams with a sub-par pass-rush, either could feast. Given their size and length, they’ll be able to win jump balls. As hot a topic as contested catches were, if a player is bringing the ball down, he’s bringing the ball down.
London posted 160 receptions for 2,153 yards (13.5 yards a catch) and 15 scores in 22 appearances as a Trojan. Smith said they did extensive research on him and his game.
“We are very confident in exactly the kind of player we’re bringing in here,” he said.