London ball

Why Falcons Rookie Wideout Drake London Won’t Be The Next Ja’Marr Chase

Every fantasy football owner is looking for the next Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson – the mid-round NFL rookie who performs well above his ADP and helps turn a fantasy team into a contender.

Chase (Bengals), Jefferson (Vikings) and Michael Thomas (Saints) quickly established themselves in the NFL during their respective rookie seasons. Last year, Chase caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a 2020 rookie, Jefferson’s receiving line was 88-1,400-7.

But rookies can be dangerous bets for fantasy managers. For every Jefferson and Chase, there’s a Mike Williams (#10 overall Lions, 2005) or David Terrell (#8 overall Bears, 2001) – players who enter the league with grades first lap, hype train cars, and the burden of expectation rarely lives up to it all.

Jefferson and Chase have ADPs this year in the first round of the fantasy draft, along with fellow receiver Cooper Kupp.

It wouldn’t be surprising if none of the six first-round receivers in the 2022 draft class or other skill-position players like Steelers QB Kenny Pickett or Jets RB Breece Hall had that kind of impact. But which of them will be the most likely fantasy as a rookie?

Atlanta Falcons fans won’t like the answer because we’re going with Drake London.

Is Drake London ready for a rookie failure with the Falcons?

USC product Drake London is having a lot of buzz, and many believers are saying the Atlanta Falcons wide is poised to be the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

It may be a regional bias. It may be the skepticism of the Falcons’ heavy offense and QB Marcus Mariota, but I’m not going to go all-in on London, which has a seventh-round ADP in most fantasy leagues – at about the same as Chase a year ago.

This signals that expectations are high among fantasy owners as they hope to find this year’s Ja’Marr Chase.

I am not one of them.

Again, this may be a regional bias, but Jefferson and Chase both came out of LSU. Miami WR Jaylen Waddle, another 2021 rookie, had 104 catches for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns. This is another Alabama SEC product.

At USC London, which has the body to be physical in the NFL at 6-foot-3, 219 pounds, played in a watered-down PAC-12. Critics before the draft – and there are still plenty of them – said London was struggling to part with defenders, which could be a problem in the NFL.

In 2021, he had 88 catches for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns after being on the outside most of the time as a junior. He spent 96% of his snaps in the slot in his first two seasons at USC, so the versatility should pay off for the Falcons.

If they can give him the ball.

Falcons passing game could hamper London

Atlanta Falcons’ Drake London performs a drill during a practice at training camp on July 27, 2022 | Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Head coach Arthur Smith arrived in Atlanta with a plan to run the game, and the Falcons did it with converted wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who ran back most of the time last year.

With Marcus Mariota at quarterback, the Falcons playbook will feature a zone-reading scheme that Mariota executed well enough to win the Heisman Trophy at Oregon. Smith won’t try to turn him into an NFL pocket passer.

Mariota has spent the past two seasons as a backup to Derek Carr with the Raiders after losing his starting job in Tennessee to Ryan Tannehill, and he’s coming to Atlanta with WR Bryan Edwards, a former third-round pick who has 45 catches for 764 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons in silver and black.

So there’s a familiarity with Mariota, and Edwards is a projected starter opposite London.

Beyond the arrival of the two former Raiders, TE Kyle Pitts is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses and plans to be the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver. Also, I think Pitts will be the #1 tight end in fantasy football this season.

So London, who was already slowed by a hamstring injury during training camp, arrives in Atlanta on a heavy offense led by a quarterback trying to reestablish himself as a starter in the NFL. Despite its high NFL Draft status, London will not be the Chase of this year or the Jefferson of 2020.

Instead, I expect the numbers to be closer to Michael Pittman’s 2020 rookie numbers with the Colts – 40-503-1. Pittman was picked No. 34 overall in the NFL Draft.

That seems too much for London to overcome, which could prove to be a fantasy for owners hoping, if not expecting, a breakout rookie campaign.

Statistics courtesy of Professional Football Reference

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