ESPN’s potential surprise for Falcons won’t surprise Atlanta fans

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There’s a lot to be excited about in 2023 if you’re a Falcons fan.

Obviously, the team goals are one thing. The division is up for grabs, and the club could potentially host their first postseason contest since the magical Super Bowl run in 2016… the first in Mercedes Benz Stadium.

But individual stories will be just as entertaining.

The defense should be much improved. Will there be a semblance of a pass rush? How will Ryan Nielsen work out as defensive coordinator? Can Jessie Bates III replicate his All-Pro success in Atlanta? What about the development of young players — i.e., Troy Andersen, Richie Grant, and Arnold Eibketie?

Offensively, everyone’s stoked to see this loaded offense. Bijan Robinson is set to be an immediate star. I expect him to put up as many total yards as any running back in football en route to an Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Kyle Pitts is back and healthy. Of course, many eyes will be on Desmond Ridder and whether he can be the long-term answer at quarterback.

Drake London‘s breakout is another storyline to watch, and ESPN tells fans not to be surprised if he’s the second-year breakout receiver of the season.

What I’m hearing: There’s a ton of hype around Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Christian Watson, and all for good reasons. Those guys are all incredible receivers and bound for stardom if they aren’t already there. But London was selected ahead of every other wide receiver in the 2022 draft. He got 117 targets (tied for 25th in the league) as a rookie in the run-heaviest offense in the NFL (51.1% of offensive plays) with Marcus Mariota at QB for most of the campaign, and he caught 72 of them for 866 yards.

The Falcons’ offense is loaded with young skill position players, and rookie RB Bijan Robinson is the apple of fantasy drafters’ eyes. But London was a favorite target of Desmond Ridder when Ridder got the starting quarterback job late last season, and I get the sense the Falcons don’t want to be the run-heaviest team in the league again. If Ridder is a viable starter, London should become a superstar.

The only people who would be surprised about Drake London out-performing Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Christian Watson are because they aren’t paying attention to Atlanta.

Honestly, who could blame those folks? The Falcons have been a hard watch since Arthur Smith took over. However, London was impressive as a rookie and most Falcons fans wouldn’t be surprised at all if he’s the breakout receiver of 2023.

He put up nearly 900 yards on 72 receptions, catching passes from a current backup in Marcus Mariota and a rookie third-rounder in Desmond Ridder. Across four games with Ridder, London was targeted 36 times, catching 25 of them for 333 yards, 13.32 yards per catch — a 69.4% catch percentage.

No disrespect to Wilson, Olave, or Watson because they’re studs, but watch out for Drake London.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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