Falcons’ 2022 season review: wide receivers and tight ends

Editor’s note: This is the third of an eight-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ 2022 season. Today: The wide receivers and tight ends

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons rookie wide receiver Drake London got off to strong start, tapered off and then came on strong at the end of the season.

Second-year tight end Kyle Pitts never got it going before ending the season on injured reserve after knee surgery.

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The Falcons must wait until the 2023 season to see if they can maximize their twin towers, who each was selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft. Pitts was taken fourth overall in 2021 and London eighth in 2022.

With opponents focusing their defenses on Pitts, London caught 18 passes over the first four games, while Pitts caught 10.

London hit a lull but then finished strong over the final five games, including the final four when quarterback Desmond Ridder came his way with 36 targets. He caught 25 passes from Ridder for 233 yards.

London, who was the first receiver taken in the draft, finished with 72 catches for 866 yards and four touchdowns.

“Just playing football and playing it to your highest level possible, not playing down to the opponents, not trying to overdo stuff, just playing how they drafted me to play,” London said about his rookie campaign.

London broke Pitts’ team record for most receptions by a rookie. Pitts had 68 receptions as a rookie in 2021.

“Honestly, it doesn’t really mean too much,” London said. “I could have 30 catches and 200 yards in the season, if we’re in the playoffs, I would be happier than I am right now. I think we just have to stack wins on top of all that, and I think I would be happy.”

London had 31 catches over the final five games.

“I think it was big,” London said. “We’re building right now. Building blocks for us as players to step up well, and I think we’re on the right track for that.”

Now London will have the offseason to regroup.

“It is an absolute sprint your first year,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said. “The season ends, and then you’re gone and you have a break. For Drake, or any young player, there is going to be a process where he needs to step away because he’s been going (since the declaring and the pre-draft process).”

The Falcons are looking forward to building on his successful rookie season.

“When he comes back, or when he’s able to start getting himself going again in terms of getting himself in shape and everything else, what we want to do when he comes back is watch the tape with him and truly evaluate the routes,” Ragone said. “It’s going to be our job as coaches, what does he do well? Where does he need to improve? Where can we help schematically and fundamentally?”

Most college seasons don’t last 17 games.

“I think more than anything else, take a breath,” Ragone said. “When you come back in, let’s work together. We’ll have a plan. (He’ll) come with things (he) wants to work on.”

Pitts caught 28 of 59 targets for 356 yards and two touchdowns. His caught-percentage was 35.6, which was down dramatically from the 61.8 with Matt Ryan as his quarterback in 2021.

Olamide Zaccheaus, who’s set to become a free agent, was the second-leading receiver with 40 catches for 533 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge and Damiere Byrd also are set to become unrestricted free agents.

Tight end Parker Hesse was lauded for doing a lot of the dirty work in the blocking game. MyCole Pruitt caught 16 passes for 150 yards and four touchdowns.

The Falcons also are high on rookie tight end John FitzPatrick, who spent the season on injured reserve after undergoing surgery on both feet.

FitzPatrick said that he, Ridder and running back Tyler Allgeier planned to take a few weeks off then get back to working on the pass game in a voluntary clinic setting.

“In my experience, when those work the best, is when they are organic,” Ragone said. “Whoever is the leader, if he’s the quarterback and he has the reason why and therefore, he comes up with it, and those guys gravitate to him.”

Coaches like when players take ownership in the offseason workouts.

“No different than what we want guys to do in the season, take it over,” Ragone said. “Own the offense. Be an extension of the coaching. Really in the perfect scheme, perfect world that would be how that happens.”

Falcons’ position-by-position analysis:

Part 1: Running backs

Part 2: Quarterbacks

Part 3: Wide receivers/tight ends

Part 4: Offensive line

Part 5: Defensive line

Part 6: Linebackers

Part 7: Defensive backs

Part 8: Special teams

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