The Falcons’ 2021 draft class hasn’t necessarily blown fans away outside of Kyle Pitts, who by all accounts, has been a home run first pick of the new regime’s tenure. Still, the popular ‘draft and develop’ philosophy means that Atlanta’s coaching staff will have to refine the likes of Richie Grant, Jalen Mayfield, and the rest of the 2021 rookie class.
However, the regime’s second draft class seems to have more supporters. Anyone would be hard-pressed to find many national media pundits who disliked Terry Fontenot’s haul from a couple of months ago. There is a bevy of immediate contributors but also plenty of high-upside prospects; there’s a lot to like about this group.
So much so that two of the Falcons’ rookie class made the annual NFLPA Rising Stars list, which identifies top rookies poised to have breakout seasons, gain fan support and ultimately rank among the top-sellers of all officially licensed player merchandise. The following rookies are forecast to break through in NFL player product sales:
- Kenny Pickett, QB – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Drake London, WR – Atlanta Falcons
- Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB – New York Jets
- Aidan Hutchinson, DE – Detroit Lions
- Garrett Wilson, WR – New York Jets
- Chris Olave, WR – New Orleans Saints
- Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE – New York Giants
- Kenneth Walker III, RB – Seattle Seahawks
- Desmond Ridder, QB – Atlanta Falcons
- Malik Willis, QB – Tennessee Titans
Here’s what the article described the list as:
Compiled each year by NFL Players Inc., the marketing and licensing business of the NFLPA, the list identifies 10 rookies and 10 veteran players poised to have an instant impact on consumer sales and ultimately rank on the NFLPA Top 50 Players Sales lists in the new season.
The NFLPA strives to provide partners with a depth of player knowledge they can’t get anywhere else. Through early identification of players on the list, the NFLPA provides partners (licensees, retailers and sponsors) with insights to plan marketing campaigns, social media activations, player-driven content, brand ambassadors and product lines featuring a wider variety of players.
A total of 69 players have climbed from Rising Stars to the NFLPA Top 50 Player Sales lists since 2015, including a record 13 this past year. Among those who ascended from “Rising Star” to a top player in licensed product sales were Mac Jones and Justin Fields, who finished No. 5 and No. 8, respectively, at year end.
“The magic of this list is that it pulls from a variety of data including player sales, fan bases, social media engagement and even fantasy football popularity,” said Steve Scebelo, President of NFL Players Inc. “Combined with their diverse personalities and exciting on-field performances, we forecast players best positioned to move the needle for products and marketing in the upcoming season.”
The rankings evaluate factors for sales popularity, including: on-field performance, early demand from NFLPA partners for content and marketing, fantasy league status, social media engagement, product submissions from 80+ NFLPA licensees, team fanbases and new faces in strong markets. To be considered for the Rising Stars, veteran players must not have appeared on any previous quarterly or year-end NFLPA Top 50 Player Sales List, the only verified rankings of all officially licensed product from retailers.
It really isn’t that surprising to see Drake London on this list. Fans love receivers, especially one that is set to have a significant impact in his rookie year. However, the same can’t be said for the other Falcons rookie. Despite possibly not even starting this season, Desmond Ridder is included among the league’s most popular rookies. That’s probably due to his positional notoriety, but who knows, perhaps some people believe he will nab the starting job away from Marcus Mariota sooner than expected. Regardless, it’s about time for Falcons fans snatch up a Ridder and London jersey; they’ll be all over Atlanta by the time the season rolls around.
Photographer: Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire