Falcons’ Drake London is off to strong NFL start

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

SEATTLE – Remember those not-so-long-ago days when it took wide receivers three seasons to get up to NFL speed?

Those days are a thing of the past.

Falcons rookie wide receiver Drake London has hit the ground running. After missing most of the exhibition season, London has been targeted 19 times and has 13 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown.

When the Falcons (0-2) face the Seahawks (1-1) at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Lumen Field, London will enter the game as the team’s leading receiver.

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London, who was the top receiver taken in the 2022 NFL draft and selected eighth overall by the Falcons, is humble about his hot start to his rookie season.

“That’s just a kudos to the unit,” London told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Thursday’s practice. “Guys blocking, and the guy back there getting me the ball.”

London flashed his big-play ability on his only catch in an exhibition game. He caught a deep crossing route for a 24-yard gain, but was smacked on his left knee. London didn’t take part in the joint practices against the Jets or the Jaguars. He didn’t play in those exhibition games either.

London returned to practice three weeks later, the week of the season opener. He had to pass a physical test and was cleared to open the season against the Saints.

He caught five of seven targets for 74 yards against the Saints, including a 31-yard reception. Playing about an hour from his home in Moorpark, California, against the Rams a week later, London, who played at USC, caught eight of 12 targets for 86 yards and a touchdown. He had a long gain of 22 yards.

“I’m just following my rules and doing what I’m told, and so the ball just happens to come my way,” London said. “I just try to capitalize on that every time that I get the opportunity.”

London is trying to do his part as the Falcons offense tries to establish an identity in the post-Matt Ryan era.

“I think we are going in the right direction,” London said. “We are trending in the right direction, and that’s all we can do right now.”

Speaking of trending, you could have found “Drake London” trending on social media for much of the past two weeks. But he’s not a big social-media guy.

“Nah, not really,” London said when asked if he knew he was social-media famous.

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He’s enjoyed the week in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s been good,” London said. “Just came out here, doing what we do, putting in the work to go in this next week and try to get the win.”

London was one of the players familiar with the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium, which is where the team practiced this past week.

“I did get to play here (when at USC), which is pretty crazy,” London said. “Full circle.”

London has done his homework on Seattle’s secondary.

“They’ve got a lot of guys who can play back there,” London said. “They’ve got (safety Quandre) Diggs back there. They’ve got some rookies out there who can ball. They’ve got some guys back there who can really play.”

London likely can expect some extra attention after his hot start.

“We just have to go out there and do what we’ve been doing and just keep on pushing forward,” London said.

London, who’s 6-foot-4 and 219 pounds is anticipating that he’ll see Seattle rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen at times. Woolen, who played at Texas-San Antonio, is 6-4 and 205 pounds.

“He looks good,” London said. “He’s 6-4, 205 and to be playing corner at that height is something special, you know. But again, I’m working just like him. I’ll go out there and put on a show.”

The Falcons have been pleased with London’s start.

“Obviously, where he is with his production, I think he’s done a good job with not just the mental, but the physical part of what we ask,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said. “To try to go out there and try to execute the game plan.”

While the Saints and Rams focused on stopping tight end Kyle Pitts, London was able to do some damage.

“Just like everybody who’s out there with the skill guys, there is certain criteria that we ask guys, especially mentally. Go out and perform,” Ragone said. “You have to be on top of that. Drake is just another guy who goes out and acts like a professional.”

The Falcons believe London will continue to perform well.

“There are things that we ask, and he tries to execute at a high level,” Ragone said. “The ball finds him at times. He makes plays when his number is called.”

Quarterback Marcus Mariota didn’t want to take any credit for London’s fast start.

“That’s all him,” Mariota said. “Seriously. Again, we think very highly of him. What he does from a physical standpoint obviously sets him apart, but I think from a mental standpoint, it’s been very impressive, especially as a young guy. ... He’s done a great job, and he deserves all the credit.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sun., Sept. 25 at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 2, Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 9, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Sun., Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Sun., Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Thur., Nov. 10 vs. at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Sun., Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Sun., Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Sun., Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Sun., Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Sat., Dec. 24, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Sun., Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Sun., Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.