The Falcons’ stance on Calvin Ridley hasn’t changed since the All-Pro receiver stepped away from football five games into the 2021 season. From top to bottom, Atlanta’s leadership has voiced their support for Ridley’s personal matters while reaffirming their desire for him to return to the team in 2022. However, even Arthur Blank, the team’s owner, is unsure how things will shake out this offseason.
“We love the young man,” Blank said via the Falcons website. “He has had a great history in Atlanta. We’d love him to stay in Atlanta. Whether or not he wants to do that — he may decide that he wants a fresh start someplace else. We don’t know that. I don’t know that. I don’t have information to indicate that, but we’ll see how that plays out.”
If the Falcons do part ways with Ridley, the receiver room is extremely uninspiring. Frank Darby is the only one under contract in 2022 that took snaps in 2021. Atlanta would have to completely overhaul the unit, which would require prospects from the draft as well as free agents on the market this offseason.
In Todd McShay’s latest mock draft for ESPN (subscription required), the Falcons address this area with their first-round pick by drafting Drake London out of USC.
A team has used top-10 picks on pass-catchers in back-to-back drafts three times since 1967, so this might seem odd for a roster that just went 7-10. But the offense could lose five of the eight players who had at least 70 receiving yards last season to free agency, and it’s possible the Falcons additionally look to trade Calvin Ridley, who played in five games last year while taking time off to focus on his mental health. London, meanwhile, was on his way to a massive campaign for USC before breaking his right ankle in October. He’s a 6-foot-5 target who has the body control and contact balance to make plays over the middle, the speed to produce vertically and the instincts to create against different defensive looks.
The Falcons passed on a strong QB class at No. 4 last April to draft tight end Kyle Pitts, but it might decide to go that route now. Matt Ryan is their guy for 2022, but if they fall in love with one of the signal-callers, it’s a good spot to draft an heir to sit and learn behind Ryan. Perhaps Pitt’s Kenny Pickett could fit.
McShay even notes the possibility of the Falcons trading Ridley without stating the decision for the selection is correlated to that scenario. Clearly, even with Ridley in the fold, McShay sees the Falcons grabbing London with the 8th pick.
Therefore, the title of this article may be a bit misleading. London isn’t the same type of receiver as Ridley; the Falcons wouldn’t necessarily replace Ridley with London, but the former USC Trojan would undoubtedly make up for the production lost if Ridley does get dealt.
There is an entirely different argument to be had for taking London or any receiver for that matter with the 8th pick. Terry Fontenot has been adamant about taking the best player available, and I don’t think London would be at 8. However, that might not be how Fontenot and McShay see things.