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3 Up, 3 Down: Promising young players & the Kyle Pitts mystery

The Falcons got some great showings from a pair of young draft picks, but their previous first-round pick was again absent

NFL: AUG 27 Preseason - Jaguars at Falcons Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Atlanta lost another game at the wire to start the 2022 season, but this time it was the Falcons mounting a furious fourth-quarter comeback. The team fell just short of pulling off their own 28-3 turnaround, however, falling to the Los Angeles Rams 31-27.

The Falcons have lost their first two games by an aggregate score of 58-53. That’s actually not bad, considering that both teams are widely considered playoff contenders and one is the reigning Super Bowl champion. It’s just that both losses could have been wins, so that bit of consolation doesn’t feel so good. It’s still a long season, and one that should be viewed through the lens of improvement, anyway.

So, on that note, let’s get to it.

Three up

Drake London

The Falcons’ first-round pick continues to live up to that billing. London was again the team’s leading receiver on Sunday, catching eight passes for 86 yards and the first touchdown of his NFL career. London was a key target for Marcus Mariota during Atlanta’s comeback attempt, and he’s quickly established himself as the No. 1 wide receiver for this team. As the Falcons look for foundational pieces for their future, London has already begun to make a strong case.

Troy Anderson

Another rookie making a big play at a crucial time for the Falcons. Anderson, a second-round pick this April, sliced through the Rams’ punt protection to block a punt in the fourth quarter that really turned this game on its head. Linebacker Lorenzo Carter—who has played well through two games—was there to return the blocked punt for a touchdown. It was a huge momentum swing and another sign that the future may be bright, after all.

Elijah Wilkinson

There wasn’t a clear and obvious candidate for this third spot, so I’m going to give it to Wilkinson because of his play through the first two games. We spent a lot of time hand-wringing about the left guard spot for this team, and Wilkinson has largely put those worries to ease so far.

What could have been a lengthy training camp battle became a non-story as Wilkinson stepped in over Jaylen Mayfield on Day 2 and never looked back. After facing the likes of David Onyemata, Cam Jordan and Aaron Donald without any glaring issues, I think Wilkinson’s job is very safe.

Three down

Kyle Pitts

Perhaps the single-most distressing occurrence through the first two games has been the absence of Kyle Pitts. Please note that “absence” is applied only to his presence as a receiver, because Pitts has actually been an effective blocker so far for Atlanta. The Falcons didn’t draft Pitts higher than any tight end in NFL history just to be a blocker, however. Or, at least, let’s hope not.

Pitts caught two passes for 19 yards against the Rams, one week after compiling the exact same stat line. The talent is apparent, but the usage has been lacking. Given the close nature of the Falcons’ two losses, it’s fair to wonder if their most talented player could have made a difference.

Bryan Edwards

When the Falcons traded for Bryan Edwards this offseason, it made clear sense. The team needed to get bigger and more physical at the receiver position and find someone capable of drawing some attention away from Pitts.

Enter Edwards, who many still believe has untapped potential after some incredible performances at the University of South Carolina and with the Las Vegas Raiders. After acquiring Edwards, however, Atlanta selected Drake London and made a bevy of other moves at the position. That’s left Edwards on the outside looking in, and he’s yet to make any type of impact for this offense. Perhaps he and Mariota will start connecting on those shots to the end zone soon, but no dice through two weeks.

Jaylinn Hawkins

This is a very soft inclusion on this list, because, although the Falcons seemingly rotated him out in favor of Dean Marlowe in the second half, I’m not entirely convinced that wasn’t because of a schematic decision. It’s clear the Falcons were getting picked apart in their zone defense in the first half, and Arthur Smith indicated after the game that it was the team’s preference to make the Rams matriculate their way downfield.

Perhaps that’s not yet Hawkins’s strength, whereas Marlowe may be better equipped to make quick decisions in zone coverage. Also, maybe Hawkins just got benched. There wasn’t an obvious candidate here, so Hawkins gets this spot because the team viewed Marlowe as more valuable for some reason.