FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Drake London's physical talent in undeniable. That's why he was selected No. 8 overall out of USC, the first receiver off the 2022 NFL draft board.
London's a big dude who plays big. He's highly competitive and a physical competitor with great hands who fights for every single yard.
That wasn't news to those who studied his college game tape.
There was plenty left to learn about the 21-year, information you can only glean by working with him each and every day.
Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone talked about that process in a Thursday press conference, detailing the good news received by watching London work.
"With Drake, first and foremost with a rookie, you get the physical part," Ragone said. "That's a main reason why you drafted him. The mental part is where you want to see where guys are at. What we ask guys on offense to do, they're part of not just the pass game at wideout but the run game as well. You can see Drake taking that professionalism into the meeting rooms and trying to bring that to practice and carry it forward to the game."
London has carried what he has learned into games, with some solid production to show for it. He has 38 receptions for 407 yards and three touchdowns on 62 targets, which ranks third among rookies this season.
He has also been a relentless downfield blocker – go look at Marcus Mariota's long overtime run or Damiere Byrd's fourth-quarter touchdown at home against Carolina for evidence of that – and an active, willing participant in the run game. He has played well without the ball.
Save a time where Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack took the ball away, he doesn't have a drop or a fumble. While some fans have wanted to see him get the ball more, he has a 27.9% target share and 10 red-zone targets. He has rated as the No. 6-ranked receiver against zone coverage, per PFF, showing good awareness finding windows to get the ball.
Even if we're ignoring stats and talking about the eye test, London just looks like he belongs at this level.
Despite early success, London sees plenty of room for improvement in "all aspects."
"I'm living out my dream, playing in the NFL and being pretty productive in it," London said on Wednesday. "That's all I can ask for, but there's a lot left on the plate. I'm a competitor and I'm trying to get more."
While he has been able to produce right away – that's no given, even for quality NFL receivers – moving into the NFL did require some adjustments. Especially on the mental side of things, where Ragone and Falcons coaches were keeping an eye on how he would approach his full-time job.
"The biggest thing I've learned is about the preparation for the game," London said. "It's not like high school or college, where you can go out there on [and wing it] and just play your ball. Everybody's good. Everybody has the same competitive mentality as you. You have to be mentally and physically ready for the game."
London is approaching a career high in games. He played 13 in 2019. London only played six games in 2020 due to the pandemic. He only played eight games in 2021 due to injury.
The USC alum is heading toward No. 11 on Sunday against the Chicago Bears, showing no signs of letting up as the season moves along. Part of that is approach, and something else the Falcons are keeping an eye on.
"We're like two weeks from the end of the college season, plus bowls," Ragone said. "For some of the younger guys, their clocks are different, and we essentially have a lot of football left. As also part of watching for how the guys are doing mentally and physically as the season wears on. All those [rookies] have approached the job professionally. They've shown it means a lot to them. That's what you like to see."
While you need to see it play out live, the Falcons surely aren't surprised. They had a good idea of what they'd be getting.
"With somebody like Drake, there are a lot of characteristics that we liked," head coach Arthur Smith said on Nov. 2. "The skillset we thought was unique. That doesn't mean there weren't other really good receivers there. He was just a good fit for us, and you're starting to see that. He's got a bright future if he can stay on this path."
London's interested in staying on the path to progress, both as an individual and as a Falcons offense. That's especially true following two losses in five days, including last week's loss to the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football. That provided some extra time to self-scout and search for ways to get better as a group.
"After every game you're doing self-evaluation," London said, "but we had a bit more time to sit down with the coaches, Marcus and the other receivers to figure out what we need to do better and how to [accelerate] this offense."
Take a look as the team puts in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Chicago Bears.