ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by John Bazemore / Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London, front, runs during the team's rookie minicamp Friday in Flowery Branch, Ga. London, the No. 8 pick in last month's NFL draft, said he is healthy after missing the end of his final college season due to an ankle injury.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — First-round draft pick Drake London celebrated good health and a new contract as the Atlanta Falcons' rookie minicamp began.

London, the wide receiver taken with the No. 8 overall pick at the NFL draft last month in Las Vegas, missed the end of the University of Southern California's 2021 season with a fractured right ankle. He said he was thrilled to have no restrictions for Friday's session of the two-day minicamp that continues Saturday.

"It's just a blast being out here playing football again, especially under my circumstances, not being able to play football since last October," London said, adding his ankle "felt great."

It is not known if there will be safeguards taken with London when the Falcons move into contact drills in training camp this summer. The mandatory minicamp for all players is scheduled for June 14-16.

The 6-foot-4, 213-pound London acknowledged his health for the season is the priority.

"It is a longer-term thought process, but at the same time I always had the mentality I was going to come in and do all that I can," he said. "They didn't put any restrictions on me, so I'm going to keep on going."

On Thursday, London signed a four-year deal worth $21.5 million. The Falcons have a fifth-year option.

"Amazing," London said. "My life just changed, and I couldn't be more grateful for it."

London has a path to more than just an immediate starting job. He could be the team's top big-play threat at the position while joining tight end Kyle Pitts and running back/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as players expected to receive the most targets.

Atlanta used five of its eight draft picks this year on offensive players, with London joined by quarterback Desmond Ridder, running back Tyler Allgeier, guard Justin Shaffer and tight end John FitzPatrick in that group. The other picks were outside linebackers Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone and inside linebacker Troy Andersen.

Allgeier, a fifth-round pick from BYU, and Shaffer and Fitzpatrick, sixth-round picks from Georgia, have also signed their rookie deals.

London noted he and Ridder are roommates during the minicamp — "I don't think we have a choice but to connect," London said — and the receiver said the former University of Cincinnati quarterback's leadership skills emerged immediately when he told the other rookies that mistakes in drills would not be tolerated.

"He pulled us over right now and said, 'We messed up a lot today,'" London said. "It's just part of being a rookie on day one, but he brought us over there and was like 'We've got to get this ... together.' ... We got it together, and that's just the leader he is, so I'm following his footsteps."

Ridder will open training camp behind Marcus Mariota on the depth chart but will have an opportunity to compete for the starting job. Matt Ryan, Atlanta's starter the past 14 years, was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in late March; the Falcons soon after signed the 28-year-old Mariota, a backup the past two seasons for the Las Vegas Raiders and a former starter for the Tennessee Titans.

London is one part of the team's plan to address a glaring void at wide receiver after Russell Gage, the team's top player at the position last year, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Gage topped the depth chart after expected top receiver Calvin Ridley played only five games while away from the team to address his mental health. Ridley has been suspended by the NFL for 2022 for betting on games last season.

Olamide Zaccheaus (5-8, 193), Atlanta's top returning player at wide receiver, had only 31 catches for 406 yards and three touchdowns in 2021. The Falcons signed free agents Damiere Byrd (5-9, 175), KhaDarel Hodge (5-11, 183) and Auden Tate (6-5, 228), and on Friday they announced a trade with the Raiders for Bryan Edwards (6-3, 215).

The former South Carolina receiver was a third-round pick of the Raiders in 2020 and has appeared in 28 games (16 starts) with 45 catches for 764 yards and four touchdowns. Atlanta swapped 2023 draft positions with Las Vegas to make the deal, with the Falcons sending a fifth-round pick to the Raiders in exchange for a seventh-round selection and Edwards.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT