The Baltimore Ravens traded up to select wide receiver James Proche out of SMU in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The Ravens clearly valued Proche, as they gave up a 2021 fifth-round pick to move up to draft him. It was honestly surprising that Proche was still on the board in the sixth round. He was extremely productive at SMU. As a junior, he had 93 receptions for 1,199 yards and 12 touchdowns. He then topped those numbers in his senior season with 111 receptions for 1,225 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is an excellent route runner and has great hands. Many draft experts took notice. In fact, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network stated that Proche had the best hands in the entire draft class:
Best hands in the 2020 NFL Draft? In my opinion, James Proche (SMU)— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 30, 2020
He reportedly played well in camp, as well:
Ravens rookie WR James Proche made the best reception so far in the three days of camp. He dove with arms extended to catch a 40-yard pass from Robert Griffin III.— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) August 19, 2020
The play was ultimately called dead because a defender would've sacked RG3. But you can't discount the effort here.
However, Proche rarely saw the field as a rookie, which is still puzzling. The Ravens were actively searching for help at the wide receiver position, but Proche was only targeted three times last season and played a total of 25 offensive snaps. He did perform well as a punt returner though, and he was selected to the PFWA All-Rookie Team.
Even though Proche finished his rookie season with only 14 receiving yards, I cannot call his performance as a wide receiver disappointing, because the sample size was so small. Improving the wide receiver position has been, perhaps, the biggest topic of the Ravens’ offseason, thus far. Still, the Ravens may already have more receiver talent on their roster than we realize. Like Proche, Devin Duvernay was underutilized last season.
Proche and Duvernay should definitely not preclude the front office from acquiring another wide receiver. A free agent addition like Corey Davis or Marvin Jones would certainly help the team contend for a title, but Proche still has the talent to become an actual factor in the passing game. One of the many reasons receivers like Jones or Allen Robinson have been mentioned as potential free agent targets for the Ravens is their ability to make contested catches. Well, look at these contested catches Proche made in college:
Baltimore lands James Proche: The most targeted WR in college football - and for good reasonpic.twitter.com/lZiuoNqoVi— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 25, 2020
The Ravens recently hired Tee Martin as wide receivers coach and Keith Williams as pass game specialist. Hopefully, those new hires can maximize Proche’s potential.
Proche ended last season as the sixth wide receiver on the depth chart. Here is a noteworthy frame of reference: Dez Bryant played over 100 more offensive snaps than Proche, and Bryant was a midseason addition, who only played in six regular-season games. It is safe to say Proche’s future role is uncertain. At the same time, I still believe he could develop into a quality starter. Ideally, he will be targeted more than three times next season.