Pair of Falcons’ first-round picks named 2023 breakout candidates by ESPN

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The Falcons have nailed their first-round picks since the new regime took over. Kyle Pitts set numerous rookie franchise and league records, and Drake London broke Pitts’ receptions record in a run-heavy offense while Marcus Mariota threw him balls for the majority of the season. Both players are set to be stars in this league, and ESPN has pegged them for 2023 breakout campaigns.

Eric Moody: Drake London, WR, Falcons. London is a huge receiver who can separate from defenders and make contested catches, and he will be one of the Falcons’ most important players in 2023 with Desmond Ridder under center. In his past six games, London averaged 8.6 targets and 76.2 receiving yards, giving us a glimpse of what is to come.

Field Yates: Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons. All right, this might be a mayhem pick, but I’m trying to will it into existence. With improved quarterback play, there is simply no way that Pitts’ production can be close to what it was in 2022 (just 356 yards and two TDs). I won’t give up on a player with his raw talent, and I think a massive 2023 is in store.

London finished the season with a record 72 receptions, which must be acknowledged because of the Falcons’ run-heavy offense, for 866 yards. As Moody notes, London’s rapport with Desmond Ridder was apparent and is something I’ve discussed before:

In 13 games with Marcus Mariota throwing him passes, London received 81 targets, hauling in 47 for 533 yards and four touchdowns, good for 11.34 yards per reception. With Ridder, London was targeted 36 times, catching 25 of them for 333 yards, 13.32 yards per catch.

On average, he received six targets per game with Mariota as quarterback compared to nine targets with Ridder under center. Moreover, London had a 69.4% catch percentage with Ridder, compared to 58.7% with Mariota. In every metric, London’s connection with Ridder was much stronger than the one he had with Mariota.

Only Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave totaled more yards than London among rookies, but both received far more targets; London actually had a much better catch percentage.

The Falcons tight end phenom, Kyle Pitts, suffered a season-ending knee injury that ended a disappointing season. Following a Pro Bowl campaign as a rookie, Pitts played in just 10 games, recording 356 yards and two touchdowns on 28 receptions.

Despite the underwhelming sophomore season, Pitts doesn’t deserve blame. He remains one of the most physically gifted players in the NFL, but the drop-off at quarterback proved too much. Matt Ryan was a far cry from an elite passer; however, he was head and shoulders more effective than Marcus Mariota.

Pitts’ production took a substantial hit in 2022, but the outlook for 2023 and beyond is bright for him and Drake London.

What do you think the pair of Falcons first-rounders will do in 2023?

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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