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Ike Hilliard highlights Drake London when speaking on future of Falcons wide receivers room

Hilliard has been tasked with leading the wide receivers in 2024 under head coach Raheem Morris. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — It should come as no surprise the one wide receiver Ike Hilliard immediately name-dropped was Drake London.

Hilliard officially joined the Atlanta Falcons staff as the wide receivers coach on Feb. 1. He met with the media for the first time last Thursday.

"I've watched them all; some big-game talent there," Hilliard said. "Drake is obviously the one we're really excited about. We need him to take the next steps now as a player, and we're looking forward to coaching him, pushing him and getting him where he needs to go."

The shock should be lacking for two reasons.

One, London was the Falcons’ leading receiver in 2023 — by far. He caught 69 passes for 905 yards and two touchdowns. The closest competitor was tight end Kyle Pitts with 53 receptions for 667 yards and three touchdowns. That's 238-yard difference when it comes to production.

Two, London may be the only guaranteed receiver back on the roster in 2024. The other options from last season — Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge, Scotty Miller and Van Jefferson — are all set to become unrestricted free agents once the market opens in March. London, meanwhile, enters Year 3 of his four-year rookie contract, which he signed after the Falcons used the No. 8 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to obtain him.

So, Hilliard might have his work cut out for him when it comes to creating depth within his position room.

"That's the process that we're working through right now," Hilliard said. "Zac (Robinson, offensive coordinator) is obviously going to lead the charge in regards to how the room is going to look, how the offense is going to look. I'm obviously there to support in any way I can.

"We have confidence in the young men that are there, and we're always going to want to add competition and talent. So, we'll see what that process leads to in the next couple of weeks."

Atlanta Falcons wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard is interviewed by media during a press conference in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Thursday, February 15, 2024. (Photo by Amanda Valle/Atlanta Falcons)

In the meantime, the focus is on London.

His numbers varied from his rookie to sophomore season — improving in some, backtracking in others, but only slightly either way. For example, he had 72 receptions in 2022 and the 69 in 2023, but he had 866 yards receiving in 2022 and the 905 in 2023. His touchdown count went from four to two.

For what it's worth, his offensive snap count totals increased from 78% to 81%, and that's with missing the Falcons’ Week 9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings due to a groin injury.

Hilliard knows London is already a talented athlete, so he doesn't want to say his goal is to make London better. It's more so pushing for even more out of London.

"Just for me, as a coach, I think when you're going into any game and in any situation in the NFL, you like to have a guy that can dictate the coverage, make it easier for the quarterback to see what's going on, command the ball when you get 1-on-1 attention, make plays and be a legitimate factor on a week-to-week basis on the outcome of the game," Hilliard said. "Not that he hadn't done that. But we're just looking to build on what he has already accomplished and go forward from there."

And if the others do return in 2024, they were also productive in their own way. Hodge had a team-best average of 16.6 yards per reception with 14 catches in 2023. Miller had two touchdowns to match London's tally that tops their position. Hollins had the second-best yardage among receivers with 251. Jefferson started the most games (five) out of this crew behind London.

The Falcons offense is bound to look different under a new coordinator and head coach, so even more opportunities and possibilities could — and likely will given Robinson and Raheem Morris' backgrounds — come to the wide receivers. That is just one reason Hilliard chose to come to Atlanta. Saying one reason of many wouldn't cover what attracted Hilliard here, either.

"Everything," Hilliard said. "We have a great nucleus of young talent as far as the pass-catching group is concerned."

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