The wide receiver play for the Atlanta Falcons was a far cry from what fans had become accustomed to over the last 20-plus years. Drake London looks like a burgeoning star in this league, but even his production was limited by the offensive scheme and inept quarterback play.
Behind London, though, the picture was extremely bleak. The good news for Atlanta is that nearly all the receivers were here on one-year deals, which means a new direction can be charted immediately.
London’s continued growth should be the only positive takeaway from the Falcons’ receiver play in 2023, but let’s dig into it all anyways.
Atlanta’s quarterback woes impacted a lot of the offensive weapons on the roster, but London might have been chief among them. He caught 69 passes for 905 yards and two touchdowns, improving upon only the yardage total from his rookie season. However, based on the eye test, London had what amounted to a breakout season.
He was a dangerous No. 1 option whose season should be judged not on the quantity of plays he made but the quality of them. Don’t get me wrong, London still provided plenty of mesmerizing moments—let’s watch one right quick.
According to Fantasy Pros, though, only 73 of London’s 110 targets were on target. Therefore, London’s 69 receptions should be considered in a much more favorable light. Furthermore, London had 17 contested catches in 2023, one shy of Mike Evans’s league-leading total. If the Falcons knew they were going to have quarterback issues, they at least found a receiver who could succeed in that environment. In fact, the comparison between London and Evans really does feel appropriate.
Pro Football Focus graded London’s season as a 78.9, which was a downtick from his excellent grade of 83.2 as a rookie. However, a closer look at the numbers provides a bit more optimism. He graded out at a 96.6 on deep passes and a 98.1 on intermediate passes. Those numbers align with what we’ve seen from London and suggest he can consistently create chunk plays.
London stands to benefit from Raheem Morris’s arrival more than anyone not named Kyle Pitts. Morris is a former receivers coach who will be able to act as the bridge between the Roddy White-Julio Jones-Calvin Ridley lineage that was disrupted before London arrived. The stories Morris will be able to tell, and the wisdom he can impart will be invaluable. If Zac Robinson does bring a version of the Rams’ passing game—and it makes sense that he would—London should have much more space to operate in 2024.
Now all he needs is a quarterback who can get him the ball on time and in stride.
Hollins finished second on the team in production at the wide receiver position, which is all you need to know about this group in 2023. That’s not a dig at Hollins, by the way. The attitude he brought to the receiver room and his presence on special teams were important for Atlanta. But Hollins caught a pass in just eight of the Falcons’ 17 games this season, and he was the team’s No. 2 wide receiver.
His best performance came in Week 2, when Hollins caught three passes for 60 yards. He finished the year with three special teams tackles, but the number of times he forced a fair catch shouldn’t be discounted. Hollins finished with the team’s fourth-highest PFF special teams grade.
Way back in training camp, Arthur Smith mentioned Hodge as a player who, upon reflection, he felt could have been used more in 2022. That caused tiny waves because coaches aren’t typically that forthright with applicable self-scouting insights. Turns out, even those tiny waves were probably too much because Hodge’s usage barely moved an inch.
After catching 13 passes in 2022, Hodge caught 14 balls for 232 yards and no touchdowns. Like Hollins, he was a core special teamer and a very good one, but when your ostensible No. 2 and No. 3 wide receivers are most valuable for their play on special teams, things aren’t great.
The Falcons acquired Jefferson’s services in Week 6, but he never developed into the threat they’d envisioned. Jefferson struggled with drops and had by far the lowest catch rate of his career at 42.9 percent. His speed was supposed to open up the offense and help create space, but that never really panned out either.
It wasn’t for a lack of opportunities, either. Jefferson’s 28 targets were just two behind Hollins’s for second-most among wide receivers. He caught 12 of those targets for 101 yards and no touchdowns.
Miller’s season got off to a slow start, but he delivered some big plays during the back half of the year. His two touchdown catches tie him with London for the team lead among wide receivers, and he finished with 161 yards on just 11 catches. Miller is a tenacious player and a good run blocker at the receiver position, which is why he was valuable in the previous offense.
All of the players listed above outside of London are free agents this offseason, and it’s unlikely any of them are brought back.
Overall performance: One star in the vacuum of space
London should be commended for what he was able to accomplish last season, and there are many reasons to expect brighter days ahead. His skillset is scheme versatile, and London will only continue to develop his in-game intelligence as his career progresses. As nice as London’s season was, however, it couldn’t prevent the Falcons from finishing with the lowest yardage output at the wide receiver position in the NFL last season.
That’s brutal, and that can’t all laid be at the feet of Desmond Ridder. This offense was designed to spread the ball around to a number of different positions, but that led to droughts in production far too frequently.
Outlook: Clear the decks
This could all be a bad blip in our collective memories very soon. The Falcons only have four wide receivers under contract for the 2024 season and the fewest money invested at the position. Given the potentially historic level of receiver talent in this year’s draft and the money Atlanta could have available for free agency, they can add help for London very quickly.
That’s great news for a first-time offensive coordinator who should be able to get exactly the type of players he’s looking for. Plus, Morris’s experience and reputation as a wide receivers coach, coupled with the presence of Ike Hilliard should make Atlanta an enticing destination for free agents. Of course, this all assumes the plan at quarterback works out. There’s only so much a receiver can do, after all.