Atlanta’s first-round pick in this April’s NFL Draft certainly looks like he belongs in the NFL, but Drake London has yet to hit an important milestone for highly touted young receivers.
Through his first nine games, London leads the Falcons with 33 catches for 369 yards and two touchdowns, but he has not gained 100 yards in a single contest. In fact, London has not gained at least 50 yards in a game since Week 3 at Seattle.
It’s been a bit of a slow period, statistically, for London, but he continues to show real ability out on the field. Instead, his lack of production is largely a result of the offensive approach and the opportunities he’s had so far.
According to Pro Football Focus, the bulk of London’s usage has come in the short and intermediate parts of the field. Of London’s 56 targets, 42 have been within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, and he’s operated well over the middle on deep crossers and dagger concepts. That role has led to a healthy 11.2 yards per reception this season, but it’s time for London to take things up a notch.
Many don’t expect Thursday night’s matchup to feature a lot of passing. Perhaps that’s a good assumption given how Marcus Mariota struggled on his deep shots against the Los Angeles Chargers. However, even in a forgettable outing through the air, I think the Falcons sent a message.
They are going to keep attacking defenses deep with the passing game, but opponents dare not ignore a run game averaging 163 yards, which is fourth-best in the league. Therefore, I expect to start seeing teams allocate their resources to protect those parts of the field, specifically. Guard against the 20-plus yard explosive while also crowding the box to defend the run.
All of that could set London up to feast in that 5-20-yard range that he lives in. Plus, more vacated space by the defense in the area London roams allows him to really utilize his run-after-catch ability, which is a strength of his game.
In his piece for The Athletic after the Chargers game, Josh Kendall noted that Mariota is 6-of-30 on passes that travel at least 20 yards in the air. That inaccuracy on deep passes was starkly apparent in the loss.
As the Falcons continue to fine-tune their offense, it stands to reason that one adjustment could be a departure from the home run shot and more attention to the intermediate parts of the field. That would also play into Mariota’s strengths a bit more. He’s completing 70.4 percent of his attempts between the line of scrimmage and 20 yards downfield with a passer rating of 105.6 compared to a completion percentage of 23.3 and a passer rating of 35.1 on 20-plus-yard passes.
The Falcons have already done the hard work to show defenses that they will take those deep shots whenever a neutral opportunity presents itself, which can’t be ignored. With time the most precious resource in the leadup to Thursday night’s game, the Panthers can really only prepare for so much.
London didn’t have the best stat line in the first matchup against the Panthers - four catches for 31 yards - but that’s once again more a product of the offense. If Carolina chooses to defend the deep pass and the run, the opportunities could be there for London to finally break that 100-yard barrier. He’s certainly deserving of it.