Being drafted high comes with a lot of pressure from the team and of course, the fans. In particular if you’re a top 10 pick, if you are fortunate enough to land that high in a draft, then there are certain things that are going to be expected of you very quickly. Obviously, you should be a starter off the bat if you’re a top 10 pick, and most importantly you need to produce, if not, the murmurs and whispers of bust quickly start to seep from the corners.
There have been some WR bombs over history including John Ross back in 2017 when he was picked 9th in that draft and then we also have Kevin White in 2015 when he was picked 7th. Neither one of those guys came close to living up the high expectations that were expected of them. Drake London was drafted out of USC in the first round at pick number 8. The 6-5 215 lb wideout had a lot expected from him immediately coming into this season. In 3 years he found the end zone only 15 times at USC. But he really started to become a dominant force his final season, when he showed huge game-changing potential. Unfortunately, he only got to play in 8 games, but he rocked the Pac-12 with 88 receptions for 1,084 yards and 7 TDs. He’s a lot of fun to watch and his competitors’ spirit energizes his entire team when he’s on the field. With his monster size he’s outstanding in jump ball situations, he’s the kind of guy that you can throw in his vicinity, and with his size, he’s a problem for defensive backs to match his physicality with his catch radius. And he also has the slick ability to adjust his body and stay inbounds on throws outside the numbers.
He’s not afraid of contact in traffic over the middle of the field, with body control to be able to haul in balls otherwise uncatchable. London also has shown the ability to create yards after the catch with his 84 YAC. Because once the pass has been secured, he has a strong gear to get upfield.
We know that he wasn’t blessed with long speed, he’s not going to blow past anybody on a go route. But he’s been very good on the intermediate routes and creating yards with his strength after the ball has been caught. London is a fighter; he doesn’t quit on a play and it often takes several defenders to get him to the ground.
He seems to struggle some to be able to separate downfield based on speed alone. And that will always be some concern about a WR that lacks the ability to create consistent separation. And of course, drafting a receiver who struggles to get separation like that, so high in the draft can and did pull some questionable looks and theories from some. On top of the fact that he had a wicked ankle injury that ended his final season, there were a lot of questions to be answered.
But for someone who some experts felt lacked the ability to run a full route tree at USC – he’s been pretty good so far for Atlanta. After 4 games in the NFL – he has 18 catches, 231 yds, and 2 TDs, all of which are tops on the team. London has also been a real asset on 3rd downs to bail out his QB in tough situations, as well as being a good chain mover in the intermediate part of the field with 12 1st down catches, and has done a lot of work inside the 20, with both of his TDs from that area of the field.
Going on to a team with not a lot of expectations as far as reaching the playoffs, a player really has to dominate to be able to lead a team with average to middling expectations anywhere. Between him and Kyle Pitts as the primary receiving targets for a middling quarterback like Marcus Mariota leaves a lot to be desired. But even though he lacks a top 10, or probably even a top 20 quarterback throwing to him, he’s still been able to succeed with 231 yards and 2 touchdowns so far this year. So far, in his very young NFL career he’s been pretty good whether or not he becomes a superstar we’ll have to see. There are some parts of his game that obviously need to be improved on and maybe some parts of this game that there’s nothing more that he can do to fix. But the fact that he’s been playing at a high enough level after his injury at USC says a lot for his determination and work ethic.