Fantasy Football: It might be time to demote Drake London, and not because of Friday’s knee injury

DETROIT — On their official fourth play in the Falcons’ preseason opener against Detroit, rookie Drake London crossed the field on a mid-route with a defender right on his tail, and quarterback Marcus Mariota delivered a perfect ball for London to trap and spin uphill with. A Lions defender collided with him, he went to the ground along the Lions sideline and he got up and walked towards his team’s sideline.

This impressive and seemingly innocuous piece ended up being the last of the evening in London. Five snaps including a penalty, and we got our one and only taste of the first-round sensation. The Falcons announced that his knee injury will prevent him from returning.

London stayed on the sidelines for the first half, a very good sign, and was walking normally with a compression sleeve on his right leg after the game. Falcons coach Arthur Smith did not provide an update, saying only that the team will know more this weekend.

It looks like London’s injury won’t do anything to scare off Fantasy managers from drafting him, but the sole conduct of Atlanta’s starters has raised another concern. A run-back…or maybe a run-back is more appropriate.

Mariota ran on three of the Falcons’ 12 plays, including six yards for a touchdown. And, according to Smith, none of them were intentional – each was an improvisational piece that Mariota composed on instinct.

“It’s part of the way I play,” Mariota said after the game. “… I’m not afraid to sit in the pocket and do what I have to do, it kind of depends on what (the defense) gives me. … But if (running opportunities will) arise produce, I have to play that way, I’m more than willing to do that.”

You might think Mariota’s run means nothing. But the last time he was a regular starter, he had multiple rushing scores four straight seasons and over 300 rushing yards in three of them. And even when he was the backup for the Raiders, Mariota was used here and there as a changing mobile quarterback. His legs are clearly part of his game.

“You’d like the guys doing this to step down,” Smith said. “You’re in pre-season… but he can’t help it. … [H]He’s another player with a lot of speed that you have to defend touchline against touchline.”

When Mariota runs, he does not throw or pass. He won’t reach the level of a Michael Vick around 2006, but he will take plays away from London, Kyle Pitts and the rest of Atlanta’s offensive talent. Sometimes it will actually help them, as he will leave the pocket to extend play – which happened to London on their 24-yard catch. But Mariota’s story combined with his re-emergence as a willing racer will prove to be a double-edged sword.

Is this the wrong time to bring up the fact that Mariota has never averaged 31 pass attempts per game over a season? Or connected with a wide receiver for 70+ receptions or 1,000 receiving yards in a season?

At least Pitts can hang his hat on the great seasons Delanie Walker had with Mariota, including a 94-1,008-6 stat line since 2015.

Plus, there’s no doubt that Mariota’s aggressive style is injury-prone. We have already seen this, unfortunately. Falcons rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder had a great time on Friday, but he’s not ready to command the offense.

It stings because Pitts and London have huge advantages. But if the Falcons throw a little less and pass a little less, there’s not as much potential as Fantasy managers would like. That doesn’t mean the Falcons won’t be a good team, but they might not be perfect for our fantasy teams.

Pitts remains the No. 3 tight end in my ranking, but London may not have quite the advantage over other receivers in the No. 3 range. You might not want to impose a choice on him among the top 75 on draft day, even in PPR leagues.

It’s also worth mentioning that Mariota’s rush is giving Falcons running backs a headache. And it doesn’t help that the Falcons have plenty of players who can run the rock. Cordarrelle Patterson was a breakout last year who played point guard in the very first game against the Lions and then didn’t play again (Smith said the team didn’t put themselves in the right position to that he sees the ground). Qadree Ollison and Damien Williams shuffled throughout early practice, then Caleb Huntley and Avery Williams came in before rookie Tyler Allgeier saw some snaps to end the first half and play the second quarter.

Patterson is the Falcons’ only running back to earn a top-100 pick; Allgeier may warrant a late pick if he moves up the depth chart – his blocking on Ridder’s winning throw may give him more chances.

As for Mariota, he won’t be picked in a one-QB league, but he deserves extra attention in leagues that can start two passers. He may not play 17 games, either through injury or because the Falcons want to give Ridder a job, but when he’s on the field, his running skills will allow him to help. Don’t neglect it on draft day.

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