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Priority No. 1? Falcons Must Target WR In First Round Of NFL Draft

With Calvin Ridley suspended, the Atlanta Falcons must target a receiver with the No. 8 pick

The Atlanta Falcons must draft a receiver early in the 2022 NFL Draft. There are certainly other needs, but none more pressing than pass-catcher as free agency begins. 

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Calvin Ridley vs. Washington
Calvin Ridley and Xavien Howard

With Calvin Ridley suspended for the entire 2022 season, Atlanta's attention turns to the young crop of receivers who made their mark in Indianapolis. While the Falcons have pressing needs on their offensive line, defensive line and secondary, take a look at the receiver situation.

Ridley is out. Russell Gage is a free agent. So are Olamide Zaccheaus and Tajae Sharpe. Tight end Hayden Hurst is expected to test the open market and receiver/running back Cordarrelle Patterson is being courted by multiple franchises.

It might not DEFCON 1 level yet at the receiver position, but the lights are flashing and the siren has been rung. Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot might have to target multiple helpers.

It's a good thing the class is loaded with potential top targets on all three days. That still isn't enough for Atlanta to pass on a receiver at No. 8 if given the chance. 

Ohio State's Garrett Wilson backed up his status as potentially the top receiver when running a 4.38 40. But it wasn't just his strong performance at Lucas Oil Stadium that makes Wilson a top-tier prospect. In his All-American season, he caught 70 passes for 1,058 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. 

Wilson said he sees similarities in his game to those of the Buffalo Bills' Stefon Diggs, though he hopes to bring a different element.

"Stefon Diggs is a great player and for someone to make that comparison is awesome," Wilson said. "I like to think I bring different things to the table. I don't want to strive to play like anyone. Everyone is special for their own reason." 

Arkansas' Treylon Burks made sure SEC cornerbacks remembered his name. All three seasons in Fayetteville, he averaged over 16 yards per reception. In 2020, he found the end zone for the first time in his career and tacked on seven scores. In 2021, he finished with over 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

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Some compare him to Tennessee Titans star A.J. Brown, a name Falcons coach Arthur Smith knows quite well. Others compare him to San Francisco 49ers standout Deebo Samuel

"The way that he plays running back, plays inside, plays outside, multi-player, person, athlete," Burks said of his style of play. That's who I try to mimic my game after him." 

Then there's USC Drake London. Making contested catches is his calling card.

London did not work Thursday as he still is recovering from a season-ending ankle injury. He won't be ready for USC's Pro Day on March 23, but will hold a private workout in Los Angeles on April 5. 

Think Fontenot and Smith will miss out on a receiver drawing comparisons to former Falcons great Julio Jones? 

A basketball player by trade, London credits his time on the court in helping him translate to similar production to the turf. 

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“Basketball has helped me in every way possible, and I’m blessed I played both as long as I could," London said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "It’s definitely helped me transition into football the best I can. (Going for jump balls) is just like getting a rebound to me. When I see the ball in the air, I’m going to go get it.”

All three receivers should be targets at No. 8, but the list won't stop there. In Round 2, Georgia's George Pickens could be a smart option. Same with Memphis' Calvin Austin III.

With eight picks in the draft, Atlanta has options when on the clock. They'll be able to address multiple woes in on Days 2 and 3, but until further notice, receiver is the top priority.