FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Maybe it won't be so easy for defenses to focus all their attention on Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts after all.
The Falcons added help for Pitts in the first round of the NFL draft, and with that help came impressive size.
Atlanta continued to emphasize its passing game by selecting Southern California wide receiver Drake London with the No. 8 overall pick Thursday night in Las Vegas.
London gives Atlanta a much-needed top threat at receiver, and his selection came one year after the Falcons chose Pitts with the No. 4 overall pick.
London (6-foot-4, 219 pounds) provides excellent size as well as the potential for big plays. He had 88 catches for 1,083 yards and seven touchdowns for the Trojans only eight games in 2021 and was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year.
London said he looks forward to joining Pitts (6-6, 246) as "twin towers" in Atlanta's passing game.
"I mean it's just two big dudes out there on the perimeter," London said. " Obviously, I've got to earn my stripes to get out there on the field with him."
It would be a major shock if London is not on the field with Pitts. He will be expected to make an immediate impact on an offense undergoing a dramatic overhaul after the recent trade of 14-year starting quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts.
London said he is fully recovered from a fractured right ankle that ended his 2021 season. He pointed out that he is still working to restore his endurance but otherwise has no limitations.
The receiver said he had many conversations with the Falcons before the draft and expressed confidence in the regime led by general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith.
"I just felt like I wanted to be in Atlanta at the end of the day," London said, adding he likes "the coaching, the direction that they're going in and just the type of players they want to bring in to their facility. They're just moving in the right direction, and I just can't wait ... to be a Dirty Bird someday."
London was the first wide receiver taken in the draft, but the Falcons' pick seemed to trigger a run at the position. Ohio State's Garrett Wilson was the No. 10 overall pick by the New York Jets. Another Ohio State wide receiver, Chris Olave, was selected at No. 11 by the New Orleans Saints, followed by Alabama's Jameson Williams at No. 12 to the Detroit Lions.
The Falcons entered the draft with an obvious need at the position.
Russell Gage was left as the team's top wide receiver last year when Calvin Ridley played only five games while away from the team to address his mental health. Gage has since signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Ridley was suspended by the NFL for 2022 for betting on games last season.
Olamide Zaccheaus, who had 31 catches for 406 yards and three touchdowns, is the top returning wide receiver. The Falcons added depth at the position by signing free agents Auden Tate, Damiere Byrd and KhaDarel Hodge.
The Falcons received a third-round pick from the Colts in the Ryan trade. Atlanta signed Marcus Mariota as the probable starting quarterback next season, reuniting him with Smith, who was the Tennessee Titans' offensive coordinator when Mariota lost the starting job in Nashville in 2019.
Feleipe Franks, who attempted only one pass in 2021, is the only other quarterback on Atlanta's current roster. Fontenot has said the team will find help at the position through the draft, a trade or free agency.
Fontenot said this week the uncertainty of who would be selected with the first seven picks of this year's draft added "unique" intrigue to his preparations. Even so, Fontenot knew he'd have no chance to consider some players who would be attractive to the Falcons, including Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. The Lions took him with the second pick after Georgia pass rusher Travon Walker was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Falcons will be busy Friday night, when they have four picks — two in the second round and two in the third. They have nine selections overall, including two in the sixth round but none in the seventh on Saturday.
The Falcons are coming off a 7-10 season in which they were outscored 459-313, and Fontenot said he hopes to add competition at every position.
Another glaring need is the pass rush. Atlanta ranked last in the NFL with 18 sacks last season, 11 fewer than any other team, and the Falcons released outside linebacker Dante Fowler, who led the unit with 4.5 sacks.
Atlanta has received good production from its most recent first-round picks.
Pitts led the Falcons with 68 catches for 1,026 yards as a rookie. Cornerback A.J. Terrell and right guard Chris Lindstrom, first-rounders in 2020 and 2019, respectively, rated among the top players at their positions last season.