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How Drake London has established trust, commanded respect in his second NFL season

The USC product is finding his voice as a leader, footing as a productive NFL receiver.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder launched an arching pass deep downfield and into double coverage, yet it didn't feel like a low-percentage throw.

Drake London, after all, was en route toward the landing spot.

Even as the crowd may have panicked with the pass seemingly headed for a Tampa Bay defender's grasp, the second-year receiver wasn't giving up. He switched lanes to his left, leapt skyward and snatched the football out of the sky.

The 45-yard reception was spectacular, yet arguments could be made for another catch being his best. That's because the USC product has made the improbable look easy, to take a 50-50 ball and make it 90-10.

"Des has trust in me, and I have trust in him," London said after Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay. "It's my job to come down with it."

Trust about sums up London's time in Atlanta, over nearly two years since being selected No. 8 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. It has been built by making catches like the one referenced above and in ways less pronounced from the outside looking in.

That's why his performance against Tampa Bay, where he had 10 receptions for 172 yards on 11 targets wasn't met with shock or surprise. The Falcons believe that's what he can do.

London has also proved to be the type of player and personality the Falcons thought he was coming out of USC, a combination of grinder, fierce competitor, team guy and exceptional athlete.

"What we love about Drake, he fits everything we're trying to embody here," head coach Arthur Smith said. "His habits, I think, are old school, and I mean that in a positive way. He doesn't come out of practice. He's in phenomenal shape. He would take every rep, even when you try to spot him in a game."

London has a relentless quality to him in practice and play. He may not have the numbers of others drafted around him to this point, but, as Smith points out, he was an excellent fit for what the Falcons do. He's relentless going after passes, relentless blocking hard in the run game even with no hope of a stat or public recognition. That showed up against the Bucs as much as any other game of his young Falcons career.

"That's the kind of worker and player he is," Smith said. "That's how he's wired."

Another point made clear this season: London cares. So much.

You could see it after the loss to the Bucs, when he came up three yards shy of what would've been a game-winning touchdown as time expired. He stood there for three minutes after the game (read Tori McElhaney's description of that moment here), temporarily unable to move beyond the fact the Falcons didn't win.

You could see it on his face when asked about the emotions of a last-minute loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the postgame locker room. It took him four seconds to respond with an "I don't know," and another three seconds to say this:

"I don't like losing. I'm just going to keep it at that. I don't like losing and I don't want it to become a habit of ours. We need to switch things up."

You don't hear that much from a second-year guy, especially a non-quarterback and someone as easy-going as he seems away from the gridiron. London picks moments to be assertive, and it's not always in front of a camera. He talked some during OTAs and training camp about being a stronger presence as a leader, and moments like that afternoon in Arizona are public proof of that.

"I'm still young in the league, so I never want to be that dude who's forcing it," London said Thursday afternoon. "I want it to come naturally and for it to come from a place that's serious, where everyone knows that I'm serious."

Words are hollow unless backed up with talent and action, and London is finding his footing in all of those areas. He finds the right moments to say something, but most times prefers to, as Smith put it, be the embodiment of Falcons football.

"If I go out there and do my thing," London said, "I hope other people will follow suit."

That builds trust. That commands respect.

"He has become that guy to step up, the guy to be vocal, to call someone out when they're wrong, to praise when they're right -- he's just done a tremendous job," Ridder said. "When he first got here, he was just kind of that quiet California kid, but now he's stepping in the huddle and whether it's down, the distance or just picking guys up, whatever it may be, you hear his voice out there."

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Carolina Panthers, presented by Fast Twitch.

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