Atlanta Falcons don’t consider USC wide receiver Drake London to be a reach

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Anyone with a historically entrenched skepticism about Atlanta’s team-building process received some affirmation Thursday night when the Falcons selected USC wide receiver Drake London with the No. 8 pick in the NFL Draft.

London was the No. 15 prospect in the athleticDane Brugler’s final Big Board ranking, and making him the first wide receiver selected in a draft loaded with wide receiver talent, leaves Atlanta with some question. London was the highest-rated player on the Falcons’ board at any position when it was Atlanta’s turn to pick, general manager Terry Fontenot said, adding that he received calls about trades but didn’t consider any of the offers serious.

The Falcons have some numbers to back up their opinion on London.

The first are these: He is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 219 pounds. Head coach Arthur Smith has wanted to increase the size of Atlanta’s wide receiving corps since he joined the franchise. With London, Smith has done so with the added advantage of having a player who knows how to use that size. London played a year of basketball for the Trojans before quitting to focus on football.

“He helped me tremendously, from attacking the ball when I’m going to get a rebound to crossing them when I’m going against the press (coverage), stuff like that,” London said. “Honestly, it has helped me a lot.”

London immediately said he and last year’s first-round pick Kyle Pitts, a 6-6 tight end, can form a “twin tower” combination in Atlanta.

“Just two big guys on the perimeter,” London said. “Obviously, I have to earn my stripes to be on the field with him. If I do, I think it’s a good nickname.”

Smith was impressed that his rookie has already given himself a nickname, joking that “it gives me more ammunition for the first-team reunion.” And there is no doubt that the size of London was a selling point.

“He’s tough to take down, he’s a catch-and-run guy, he’s also super competitive,” Smith said. “He is a very versatile player even at his size.”

Here are the other numbers to bolster Atlanta’s argument: 88 catches, 1,084 yards, seven touchdowns. That was London’s output last season in eight games. His final college season was cut short by a broken ankle suffered in Game 8.

London recently fully recovered from that injury, and didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine or USC pro day because he didn’t have time to properly train for the event, he said.

“I felt like I had proven what I needed to prove. I didn’t have 6-8 weeks to train for that,” London said. “I was just starting to run. I only had four days of full throttle riding (before USC pro day).”

The Falcons don’t question London’s speed.

“We’re comfortable with speed,” Smith said. “Just watch the tape, it’s pretty fast.”

The Falcons were impressed that London played both in the slot and away from USC.

“The way we play and the guys move, you have to be able to (play inside and outside),” Smith said. You’ve seen him run the routes we’ll ask him to run. You have a lot of confidence in the player you are getting. It’s a really valuable offensive weapon for us.”

London averaged 15 goals per game last season.

“I’m someone who goes up and gets the ball, regardless of whether it’s covered in quotes or not,” London said. “I think (the Falcons) are getting a playmaker.”

Even with all that, London’s most important attributes can’t be calculated numerically, Fontenot said.

“First of all, we always talk about the makeup, we love the way the young man is connected,” said the general manager. “He’s a tough, smart, competitive soccer player, because of the way he works, the way he competes. He fits our ethos. He fits into everything we want to be as a football team. Watch the tape, try to find a play of him going out of bounds. He’s one of those guys that we enjoy our meetings with him.”

London also enjoyed his time with the Falcons. He said Thursday night that he expected to land in Atlanta.

“I don’t even know what to say. I have no words, to be honest,” she said. “The training, the direction they are going and the type of players they bring to their facilities. We’re just moving in the right direction, and I can’t wait to get out there and put on that jersey and just be a Dirty Bird.”

(Photo: Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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