Drake London State for the Atlanta Falcons regular-season opener could be the difference in a win or a loss. The rookie receiver has missed the last three weeks due to a lingering knee injury.
Atlanta is looking for a No. 2 weapon to pair with second-year tight end Kyle Pitts. Throughout training camp, London made strides in terms of routes and the ability to create separation.
Falcons quarterback Marco Mariota has taken note of London’s work ethic and willingness to improve in the small details. What started as a process during OTAs has now translated into consistency as the regular season approaches.
“Our relationship is excellent. I think that’s because of a lot of the repetitions we had in OTAs and the beginning of training camp,” Mariota said. “We have a good feel, we have good chemistry. When we go out there, it’s going to be like riding a bike. We’re going to trust that, and trust everything we’ve done to this point.”
As the first receiver selected in April’s draft, expectations are high for London entering his rookie season. During his final season at USC, London led all FBS receivers in receptions contested with 19.
London was limited to eight games in 2021 after suffering a broken ankle in the Trojans’ win over the Arizona Wildcats. He finished the year with 88 catches for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns.
The ankle injury has not yet hindered London’s progression in training camp. Mariota said one of the biggest assets to the 6-5, 210-pound receiver’s game is his knowledge of the position.
Within days of being drafted, London dove into the playbook.
Mariota can see a veteran presence in London’s style of play despite barely having a professional reputation.
“In terms of the mental part, he’s been studying, he’s been around, so I’m not worried about that,” Mariota said. “I think physically if he’s feeling good, he can be someone we lean on.”
The hope is that London will ease the pressure on Pitts in terms of the aerial game. Pitts, Atlanta’s 2021 first-round pick, finished his rookie campaign with 68 receptions for 1,068 yards and a touchdown. He was one of two Atlanta players to record more than 60 receptions and 700 yards receiving last fall.
This offseason, Atlanta lost wide receiver Russell Gage to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via free agency. The Falcons are also looking for a consistent No. 1 receiver on the outside to replace All-Pro Julio Jones long-term following his departure from the program last offseason.
Falcons coach Arturo Smith has been optimistic about London’s rehab but won’t set a timetable on when the rookie pass catcher is expected to return. That said, Smith did not officially rule London out for the season opener at home.
Smith said, “We’re excited about Drake’s progress, and we’ll see where it goes.”