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Drake London's 'Opposite' Mindset Has Falcons 'Really Excited'

Atlanta Falcons rookie wideout Drake London has opened eyes with his on-field performance and physical tools, but he's impressed coach Arthur Smith with how he's wired - and only continues to prove himself each week.

Atlanta Falcons rookie receiver Drake London has always been different.

Whether it was playing both football and basketball as a freshman at USC, being the lone player in the Trojans' storied history to twice have two games with at least 15 catches, or winning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year as a junior despite playing in just seven and a half games, the 6-4 London has towered above the rest for years.

The dual-sport talent and undeniable athleticism played a key part in the Falcons selecting London No. 8 overall in April's draft ... and has been just as integral in his ascent to the top of Atlanta's receiver room.

Through 15 games, London is the Falcons' leader in targets (101), receptions (61), yards (699), touchdowns (four), yards after catch (186) and receiving first downs (40). He's been particularly good since fellow rookie Desmond Ridder took over at quarterback, hauling in 14 passes for 166 yards on 20 targets through two games - but he's also had a pair of critical fumbles that thwarted potential scoring drives.

London's fumbles came in a span of three catches; one, on a fourth down conversion with just over two minutes to play in Atlanta's loss to the New Orleans Saints, and two, on another fourth down pickup during the second quarter while the Falcons were putting together their strongest drive to date against the Baltimore Ravens, ultimately leading to eight points the other way, serving as a critical factor in Atlanta's 17-9 defeat.

But after the fumble in Baltimore, London went sleeveless, with coach Arthur Smith noting it improved the placement on pressure points within his arms, enhancing ball security.

The result was one of London's best games to date as a professional, finishing with seven receptions for 96 yards on nine targets, making a handful of impressive, leaping grabs and recording his most yards in a game this season.

It was merely another step forward in London's rookie campaign, but underneath the statistical output is a telling indication of how the rookie is wired. While teams do research ad nauseam during the pre-draft process, there's only so much they can figure out, with some things ultimately not showing up until players truly face adversity as a professional.

And even though London's faced plenty of adversity, including having his final collegiate season cut short due to a fractured ankle, suffering an injury on his first preseason reception and missing the remaining exhibition games, and seeing his offensive involvement fluctuate week-to-week, the Falcons didn't truly know.

But after watching London battle back from his fumbling woes, Smith couldn't be more confident in what he's seen from the Moorpark, California native as a person and believes he's merely scratching the surface as a player ... because he's different than most others.

"Drake's game has continued to grow," Smith said. "There's some things he's worked through; as painful as (the fumbles) have been to him and they effect the game, I've seen a lot of young guys that can't recover from that. I think that's what's been unique about Drake - to go in there, made a mistake, went out there and doesn't sit there and hide from it.

"You see some guys that don't want the ball to come their way - Drake's the opposite. He goes out and attacks (and) he'll continue to get better."

It's this approach that helps make London "unique" - he's able to walk the tightrope between wanting the ball and understanding what the Falcons are trying to do offensively.

In an era that's grown pass-happy, nobody league-wide runs the ball at a higher clip than Atlanta - and only two other teams average more yards per game. Amidst inconsistency under center, the Falcons' running game has been a steady presence and played a key part in the team having just two losses by more than one possession.

And yet, London has embraced the opportunity to block, helping spring big runs countless times. The 21-year-old has stressed that he's simply enjoying the ride, because he's living out his dream as an NFL player ... but it would be wholly understandable if he grew frustrated with a lack of targets at times throughout the year.

But he hasn't. Really, it's been the exact opposite - he's giving his all on each play and has adopted an approach that's endeared him to Smith.

"I do appreciate his mindset, because some people, they may say 'hey, I want the ball,' but you can tell by their play, they may not want the ball," Smith began. "He's got an aggressive mindset, he's fun to coach, continue to see improvement and we're really excited about him."

If there's one thing Atlanta firmly knew about London upon selecting him, it's that he's far from "some people" - he's been different from the start and continues to prove that every day with his mindset and willingness to help the team in whatever capacity.

Whether he's sustaining blocks downfield or elevating above three defenders to make difficult catches, London's the same player each snap - and the Falcons are "really excited" about what they've seen and what's to come.

You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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