The Falcons Building Blocks series is a week-long series of stories that focuses in on certain talent that will be counted on throughout the course of the 2023 year in Atlanta, and beyond.
Two years ago, Scott Bair authored this series, and he had certain requirements and marks the players on this list must have. They had to be on a rookie contract. They had to be 27 years old and younger. They had to be thriving already, "with leadership qualities and potential for even better down the road." Though this list follows a similar pattern, like last year, there are no such requirements for the 2023 list.
We're looking at players the Falcons can build around, regardless of age, overall status or contract details. The Falcons have a foundation set. So, who are the main pillars of that foundation?
By: Tori McElhaney
During the Falcons OTA period this spring, Drake London was asked if the start of his second year in the league was a breath of fresh air. His answer?
"It's the biggest breath of fresh air that you could ever think of," he said.
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London had been going nonstop since his final year at USC in 2021. An ankle injury kept him steadily rehabbing all the way up to his pro day. It wasn't an injury that kept the Falcons interest at bay, though, with Atlanta using their No. 8 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft on London, the first receiver taken off the board.
For London's role in Arthur Smith's offense, the need for him would begin immediately. At the time, Calvin Ridley was suspended for the year. The Falcons would go on to trade him to Jacksonville for a fresh start, but his absence would mean the Falcons would need London to step into that vacated WR1 role as soon as he stepped foot in Flowery Branch. And he did.
"His first year we put so much on his plate," Falcons wide receivers coach T.J. Yates said of London in 2022. "From Day 1, we threw everything at him."
By the time the preseason arrived, London was well engrained in the offense. He was a staple of it, and expectations were high. But between the ankle injury he had just recovered from and a preseason injury that set him on the sideline for a bit, Yates said he doesn't believe London "was truly himself until midseason."
Once London did, he put up numbers akin to that of his draft status. London finished the season with 72 receptions and 866 receiving yards. He averaged 12 yards a catch and caught four touchdown passes. Three of London's best games, though, came at the end of the season when Desmond Ridder was his quarterback. Ridder will be the Falcons starting quarterback in 2023, and if anyone is pleased about this decision it should be London.
Nearly 40 percent of London's total receiving yards in 2022 came in the four games Ridder was his quarterback. London's catch percentage jumped from 58 percent with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback to 69 percent with Ridder. Of course sample sizes are different, London played with Mariota for the first 13 games and only had the chance to play with Ridder for the final four, but the numbers are quite striking nonetheless. If anything, these statistics depict a relationship (and production) to hope for and build off of.
However, as Yates said during OTAs, it's not just London's connection with Ridder that excites him about London's expansion in the pass game, it's the way London looks himself. Yates went back to London's health. It feels night and day from last summer to this summer.
"Coming in off this offseason fully healthy and ready to go, he looks so much more athletic, lean and he can run," Yates said. "That opens up packages for him that allow him to do more things. We can move him around. Every route in the system is at his feet. The more he can do for us, the more that will grow and improve our offense."
It's this quote that is the backbone of why London is a part of this "Building Blocks" series. This coaching drafted London to be a playmaker early, just like they did with Kyle Pitts the year before, and once London found his rhythm he was a playmaker for the Falcons.
The expectation remains the same as 2023's season approaches. With London's success usually comes offensive success for the Falcons. For that reason, he makes the list.
Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our rookies from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.