By Dylan MacKinnon
The plan was for the Eagles to address their needs at WR in free agency. That did not happen. They struck out on every Free Agent WR outside Zach Pascal, and Devon Allen who hasn’t played football since 2016. That leaves them in the position of probably needing to address WR in the draft again. We already discussed Treylon Burks and Chris Olave. So now let’s take a look at a two-sport athlete out of USC, Drake London.
Big, Long, And Explosive
Drake London follows in a long line of basketball players who switch to Football. Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Julius Thomas are among many other names who all saw success playing Basketball in either High School or College, but made the switch to Football. The difference with London is those guys all played Tight End. And while London may look the part of a Tight End at 6 Foot 5 219lbs, he lines up at WR. And he has done so with huge success at USC. London credits basketball for making him a better WR.
“Basketball has helped me a ton in football, like, as if a jump ball is same as a rebound, crossovers for my releases. It definitely has helped me and pushed me in my game of football.”- Drake London
This last season it took London just 8 games to rack up 1084 yards and 7tds on 88 catches. That made him only the 2nd player in Power 5 History to average 11 catches per game across 8 games. He finished his college career with a QB rating when targeted of 115. For reference, the highest QB rating this past season in the NFL was Aaron Rodgers with 110.9.
So what makes him so good? For one his background in basketball helps him be elite when it comes to leaping catches. He had a ridiculous 19 contested catches in his final year. That number still led the NCAA even though he only played in 8 games. With his size and leaping ability, he is the type of guy who doesn’t need to create separation. His man can be stuck to him, and he is still capable of making the play. His size and length also make him almost automatic on fades and back-shoulder throws.
And even though he doesn’t have the best deep speed, his other traits allow him to be a pretty dependable deep threat. His long arms and length can create separation and space just by being able to outreach most corners. His Offensive Coordinator called him a mismatch for this very reason.
“If you put someone small on him he can manhandle them, and he’s just bigger. And if you put someone big on him, he’s too athletic.”- Graham Harrell, USC Offensive Coordinator
London is dangerous after the catch too. His agility, size, and power make him very difficult to tackle.
Drake London has more forced missed tackles (49) than ANY other receiver since 2019 ✌️ pic.twitter.com/4aBLlNunyW— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 30, 2022
London at times demanded double coverage. But that was not enough to stop him. He produced at a historic pace. There wasn’t a corner in the Pac-12 that could stop him. It took a season ending injury to put a stop to London’s torrid pace. And he is still improving. This last year was the first time he was a one sport athlete after splitting his time between Football and Basketball in prior years. And while his experience playing Basketball has certainly helped him become a better WR, a full time commitment to Football will certainly help him grow even more. We already saw it do so his final year at USC.
Remained Humble Despite the Success
Besides the big numbers he put up at USC, the thing people most often praise Drake London for is his humility. They all say the same thing, that he has not let his stature go to his head. And those who know him, said they think he would fare very well in his interviews with teams. His old high school coach Ryan Huisenga told The Orange County Register that London would win teams over.
“Teams are going to really enjoy talking to him. Just a real good-natured young man. You would never know … how big time he is because he never draws attention to himself. They’ll find a very unassuming, good natured, humble individual. He’s kinda reserved, but very polite.”- Ryan Huisenga.
Don’t mistake being quiet or humble for not being a leader though. His team praised him for the leadership he show in his final year. Even after London sustained a season ending injury
“He was still here [Sunday] in the team meeting, he still was high spirits, he still was walking around on his crutches, but he still was smiling and he still was one of the guys. He didn’t look at it as like he was devastated and crying and by himself, he was still here. That shows you once again what kind of person he is. He’s a team leader and a team captain for a reason and still wanted to be around his guys and do everything he possibly can to lead them.”- USC Interim Head Coach Donte Williams
London should have no issues acclimating to an NFL Locker Room. By all accounts he is a likable and easy going dude.
Areas of Concern
Despite the success Drake London is not the perfect prospect. While he isn’t slow, he lacks the high end speed other WRs in this draft class display. As said earlier, he makes up with that with his length and long stride, but it is worth noting that his deep speed is closer to being average than it is too elite. London will struggle to create separation in the NFL. But if he finds a QB who trusts him it should be ok because his ball skills are elite.
His route tree is also less diverse compared to guys like Chris Olave and Treylon Burks. The question will be was that just the scheme USC used, or is it just all that London is capable of. He will likely be limited to the X Role in the NFL, though he played out of the Slot a bit in college. His lack of elite foot speed will make it hard to fill any other role. He would fit best on a team that already has a talented WR group. That way he can focus on what he does best, and there will be no pressure to fill roles beyond his capabilities. That would also give him the chance to work on his route running. If he could learn to be an elite runner, his potential could be crazy high.
He also had a minor issue with drops in College, 8 his final year. It should not be too big of an issue, and weirdly enough he is better on difficult catches that he is on standard ones. But there will be the occasional frustrating drop, at least early on.
What Draft Experts Say?
“The ultimate respect for a wide receiver is when everyone knows the ball is going to him, yet the defense can’t stop it. That sums up London’s junior season (15 targets per game), which was his first as a football-only athlete in his life. Formerly a two-sport athlete, his basketball background is evident with his elite high-pointing skills to play through contact and thrive above the rim. Overall, London needs continued development with his route running, but he provides big-play ability with his outstanding size, athleticism and ball skills, including extraordinary instincts when the ball is in the air.”
“London is a jumbo-sized wideout with a rare catch radius and outstanding toughness. He has lined up outside and in the slot. He doesn’t have ideal speed, but he’s very quick off the line and at the top of his route. Is a nuanced route runner, and it’s impressive to see how quickly he can get in and out of breaks at his size (6-5, 210). He dominates on 50/50 balls, making spectacular grabs. London understands how to use his big body to shield off defenders before attacking the ball. After the catch, he seeks out contact and fights for extra yards. He plays with an edge as a blocker, as well. Overall, some will have concern with his lack of top speed, but he reminds me of Mike Williams coming out of Clemson.”
Drake London is not the perfect WR Prospect. But he may be the perfect WR to fill the Eagles need. The Eagles have lacked that big bodied contested catch type WR since Alshon Jeffrey’s first year here. Even though they had Jeffrey the next couple years afterwards, he was never again that guy for them. London would give them someone who is elite when it comes to contested catches. And there are already WRs on the team that compliment his weaknesses.
London doesn’t have elite speed? Both Devonta Smith and Quez Watkins have great speed to make up for it? He doesn’t have a great route tree? Smith is a fantastic route runner. The Eagles not necessarily need a burner. They need an X WR, and London fits that role perfectly. With that said someone like Treylon Burks could fill that role, and also accomplish other things as well. But if it is London they decide to take, they will do so knowing there is one thing he is already elite at. And that one thing just so happens top be the exact thing they need at WR.