London ball

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London injury update and how his recovery affects Kyle Pitts

When the Atlanta Falcons drafted rookie receiver Drake London eighth overall, head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot had a clear vision for him. They wanted to double up and have two big, athletic targets between London (6-foot-4, 219 pounds) and tight end Kyle Pitts (6-foot-6, 247 pounds).

That plan hit a bump when London suffered a knee injury while catching a 24-yard pass against the Detroit Lions in their preseason game, landing on his knee while being tackled. However, the Falcons’ patience with London’s recovery and their diligence in recovering from the medical setback are about to pay off.

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Drake London recovery ‘tending in a positive direction’

London resumed training on Monday, and it went well. He was able to work with the first team attack while wearing a sleeve on his leg.

The Falcons are optimistic that London could play in the season opener after missing the rest of the pre-season as long as they don’t suffer any setbacks by Sunday’s kick-off against the Saints of New Orleans.

“The trend is positive,” a league source said. “He’s making progress,” Smith said at a news conference. “We’ll see what it looks like.”

London’s return would give quarterback Marcus Mariota a huge boost. It would also relieve Pitts, who became the first rookie tight end to qualify for the Pro Bowl since Jeremy Shockey in 2002 with the New York Giants.

Pitts caught 68 passes for 1,026 yards and a touchdown as a rookie last season. He will be the go-to guy with his unique athletic skills and ability to catch passes.

London has a huge advantage

London was the first wide receiver drafted. With his height, jumping ability and body control, London is capable of intimidating small defensive backs.

As a senior on his high school basketball team, he averaged 29.2 points and 11.9 rebounds.

Last year, he was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year despite a broken right ankle. He caught 88 passes for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns in just eight games last season, end their university career with 160 catches for 2,153 yards and 15 scores.

London and Pitts could provide the Falcons with significant red-zone options. Atlanta finished 24th in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage a year ago (53.7%).

“I’ve got the size and I feel like this Twin Towers thing, me and Kyle, could be something special,” London said when he was drafted. I’m someone who goes up and gets the ball whether it’s covered or not. I think they are getting a point guard.

And now a healthier playmaker.