Atlanta Falcons Rookie WR Drake London ‘Not Mad’ About Lack of Targets

Through the first two games of his professional career, Atlanta Falcons receiver Drake London appeared firmly in the mix for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Considering the Falcons selected the former USC star No. 8 overall in April’s draft, there were high expectations for early production, and the results were promising. Despite Atlanta’s 0-2 record, London had 13 receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown on 19 targets, a clear indication he was a focal point of the offensive game plan.

However, in the five games since, London has recorded 13 receptions for 155 yards and a score on 25 targets. In other words, London has the same number of receptions and touchdowns and fewer yards on only a handful more targets – with three more games included.

Still the Falcons’ leading receiver in targets, catches, yards and first downs, London’s rookie season has impressed – but the level to which he’s been involved in the offense has fallen off.

With the expectations and steady decline in production, is London concerned? He offered his personal thoughts on the situation.

“At the end of the day, I’m a rookie,” London began. “I’m still trying to get my feet wet; I’m still trying to learn the game. So, them running the ball a lot and then passing it a few times still has helped me a lot. I’m not worried about (the targets). I’m just trying to get my feet wet and trying to do what’s right for the team overall.”

To date, what’s been best for the Falcons is keeping the ball on the ground. Atlanta holds the NFL’s fourth-best rushing offense, running for over 100 yards in all but one game and eclipsing the 150-yard mark five times.

As a result, quarterback Marcus Mariota has the Falcons’ passing offense ranked second to last in both pass attempts (150) and total air yards at just 151 per game. They’re averaging more yards on the ground than through the air, thus decreasing the overall ability London has to make an impact on the game.

At USC, London saw 118 targets in just eight games during his final season. Entering Week 8, he’s seen 44 passes from Mariota go his way. To be clear, the 6-4, 219-pounder never expected the same volume; the college game and offense he came from differ from the NFL and Smith’s style.

However, with where he was picked and the attention he saw early, London’s role was largely the same as it was in college. After catching just one reception (on one target) for nine yards in Atlanta’s Week 7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, London reached a new low in several categories as a professional.

Asked if he’s content with his role, London paused, took a deep breath and offered a thoughtful answer expected from someone well beyond his years.

“It’s just how the game is played,” London said. “I came from an offense where they threw it however many times a game, so this is a little bit different, but it’s my job now – something I got to do. I’m not mad at it at all. I’m just waiting for my opportunities and when they come, I’m trying to make the best of it.”

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Lost in the chaos of the rookie season is that London has managed to find perspective on his life situation and adopt a team-first approach, serving as a glowing indicator of the person Atlanta invested in.

“I’m playing football for a job now; I can’t be more excited than that,” said London. “So, if I had to block more than usual, I’ll do it. It’s what’s best for this team, not what’s best for me.”

Falcons coach Arthur Smith stated that London’s decreased output hasn’t been due to a lack of trying. There have been instances where he was the primary target, but the ball went elsewhere, and others where, as London put it, the “flow of the game” led to an increase in runs.

Atlanta’s taken on the identity of its coach, developing into a tough-minded group committed to winning on the ground. While London’s individual success has taken a backseat as a result of the approach, it’s a key reason as to why the Falcons have outperformed expectations en route to a first-place tie in the NFC South – and the team plans on sticking with what’s worked moving forward.

“We’ve been running through people’s faces and we’re going to keep on doing that until they stop us,” London said.

Offensive playmakers want the football; this is not exactly breaking news. Around the league, some young talents – such as the New York Jets’ Elijah Moore – have even requested trades after not receiving enough looks.

While the Falcons have a pair of highly drafted young weapons in London and tight end Kyle Pitts and haven’t given either a huge target share, both have shown a willingness to put the team first.

When given the opportunities, London and Pitts have starred. Their acceptance of Atlanta being a run-first team is a sign that the organization has added two stellar pieces both on the field and in the locker room.

Moving forward, London will remain the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver, regardless of whether or not his targets and production mirror the title. And to the blossoming young star, none of that matters as long as his team keeps winning.

You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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