INDIANAPOLIS — The Falcons have needs at almost every position heading into the NFL Draft in April. The most significant focus on the Falcons' list of needs has been at edge rusher because of their dead-last finish in sacks in the NFL, or the offensive line outside of right guard Chris Lindstrom and left tackle Jake Matthews, which struggled significantly.
While those needs have been the most discussed, the Falcons' need at the wide receiver position may be just as dire, if not more. The Falcons have just two receivers that played in 2021 on their roster heading into 2022 in Calvin Ridley and Frank Darby. Ridley only played five games last season, and there have been reports that he could be looking for a fresh start elsewhere, and Darby served as a special teams player catching one pass in a blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
- What Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith, members of the media had to say about Calvin Ridley at NFL Combine
- 'We anticipate Matt being part of the team:' Arthur Smith, Terry Fontenot discuss Matt Ryan
- Terry Fontenot discusses the example Cordarrelle Patterson set for the Falcons
- 'We're trying to have our cake and eat it, too': Terry Fontenot discusses winning now versus rebuilding
- The art of route running with Calvin Ridley
The Falcons will need to fill that wide receiver room, and they have an excellent opportunity to do that through the draft. The team has been mocked at the No. 8 selection with players like USC wide receiver Drake London, Arkansas Treylon Burks, and others in later rounds like Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross.
Many of those players talked at the NFL Combine about the Falcons, watching former receiver Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and even hunting hogs.
Here's what they had to say:
Drake London, USC
London is still recovering from a fractured ankle that he suffered in late October against Arizona that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. London will meet with teams for interviews but won't workout out the combine as he continues to rehab back to 100 percent. He said he is about 85 percent as of Wednesday and will work out at USC's Pro Day.
At 6-foot-5, 210-pounds, London says his favorite receiver growing up was another massive athlete in size to Lions receiver Calvin Johnson Jr. He also says he studies Davante Adamas because of Adams' footwork and former Falcons receiver Julio Jones.
London played under Keary Colbert, wide receivers coach at USC. Colbert coached Calvin Ridley at Alabama when he served as assistant receivers coach, and London says Colbert has receivers watch Ridley's film often along with Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper.
"I try to learn something from everybody," London said. "At the end of the day, I'm trying to be a swiss army knife, somebody who has all the tools in their bag."
London also suited up for two games on the USC basketball team. He says catching a football is just like grabbing a rebound. He uses his basketball crossover strategy in press coverage, and hoops help him with body control.
"[My NBA dreams are] still out there," London joked with a smile.
Treylon Burks, Arkansas
Burks is among the best receivers in this draft because of his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame and versatility. Burks played in the slot, out wide, and in the backfield for the Razorbacks over three years. He finished with 1104 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns and added 111 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
Scouts compare Burks to San Francisco's Deebo Samuel and even Falcons' Cordarrelle Patterson because of his versatility.
"My physicality, the way I'm able to be used on multiple positions, and the way I can play outside receiver inside receiver running back, doesn't matter; that just sets me apart from everyone else," Burks said.
Not to mention Burks has extremely large hands, so big that he has to have custom 4X gloves made to fit. With the Falcons salary cap constraints and Patterson possibly outpricing them in free agency, Burks could be a player they invest in with their No. 8 overall selection to fill that role instead of re-signing Patterson. Burks met with the Falcons, which he said went well, where they studied film and technique.
Another fun note about Burks: he spent a long time talking about hunting hogs. He has a tattoo of his dog that helped him hunt on his left arm. He said he's caught "too many to count" and described the lengthy process: from game-planning, putting vests on dogs, and ensuring he made the correct tackle right behind the front shoulder of the hog. So the Falcons will need to ensure he finds a place for hunting to keep him happy if they select him.
Let's take a look at the creative cleats of this season!
Jameson Williams, Alabama
Williams exploded in his first season with Alabama after struggling to find playing time at Ohio State. Williams finished with 1,579 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021 and dominated defensive backs with his speed and quickness. Williams tore his ACL in the national championship game but expects to be ready for the NFL season and is still projected to be a first-round pick in many mock drafts.
Williams met with the Falcons on Monday and said he watched Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley a lot growing up.
"I like how quick and shifty [Calvin] is," Williams said. "He's in and out of his breaks and has good feet, well, great feet."
Outside of his game-breaking speed, Williams thinks his route-running separates him from other receivers in the draft.
"I got great routes," Williams said, "and I know how to read defenses and sit down in zones."
Chris Olave, Ohio State
Olave would have been a first-round pick in last year's draft, but he decided to remain in school and continued to flourish at Ohio State. He finished with 936 yards and 13 touchdowns, including a seven-catch 140-yard and two touchdown game against Michigan State in 2021. Olave says the extra year made him a more complete player, and he earned his college degree. Olave would be the first Ohio Satte receiver selected in the first-round since Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez in 2007.
Olave met with the Falcons on Monday, where they went over his college film, both good and bad. He complimented the Falcons prolific offense and specifically Matt Ryan.
"[The Falcons] have a lot of weapons on the outside," Olave said. "I feel like I can provide in that offense."
Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
Wilson shot up draft boards after a stellar 2021 season where he caught 70 passes for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has drawn comparisons to Stefon Diggs because of his route running and ability to make plays on 50/50 balls at just 6-feet.
Historic rookie seasons from Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson inspired Wilson, and he hopes that he can have a similar impact with whatever team drafts him.
"I feel like I can be one of those dudes that's the next one of those guys where they have a big role their rookie season," Wilson said. "Watching that that's what I wanna be, that's what I plan on being and gonna train to be, you know that's the goal."
Wilson could be the first receiver drafted, but he thinks that being in the right organization and with the right team is more important.
"[Being the first receiver drafted] wouldn't mean much to me," Wilson said. "I mean, a team taking a risk on me and believing in me means a lot, but as far as what it comes with, I gotta prove myself like I said once I get in the facility."
George Pickens, Georgia
Pickens spent his college career just over an hour away in Athens at the University of Georgia, where he quickly became a household name. Pickens was named the SEC freshman and offensive newcomer of the year in his first season. He suffered a torn ACL that kept him out of most of 2021 and much of his sophomore year. Still, Pickens suited up for Georgia in the National Championship, where he made an impact snagging a tough 52-yard catch.
Pickens approaches the game with an edge and toughness that not all players have, even at times getting into fights in games, but he thinks his edge gives him an advantage.
"I like to talk to trash, but I also like to show it," Pickens said. "Kinda like Richard Sherman was, talk trash, but he also could back it up. I feel like if you have that, you gon' put fear in a lotta people."
Pickens said when he first got to Georgia, he watched a ton of Calvin Ridley and was impressed by his sharp cuts and routes.