After holding the top seed in the AFC and leading their division through the first 12 weeks of the 2021 regular season, the Baltimore Ravens went winless down the stretch. They finished 8-9 and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2017 before the Lamar Jackson era.
Following their overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season finale, veteran safety Chuck Clark set the tone for the Ravens’ entire offseason and likely the 2022 season when stepped to the podium to address the media for his final postgame presser.
Chuck Clark respectfully declined to answer postgame questions and instead took the podium with one clear message as the #Ravens enter their offseason:— Bobby Trosset (@bobbywbal) January 9, 2022
“Just watch how we bounce back. That’s all I gotta say.” pic.twitter.com/i9soXun4Ii
One player that appears to have taken Clark’s message to heart is wide receiver James Proche, who is already grinding away to get ready to help the team rebound. Not only has he begun an intense training regime, in the Twitter post below, but he also vowed that the Ravens will not fail to punch their ticket to the postseason for as long as he is around.
never missing the playoffs again, I promise!— pro. (@jamesproche3) February 4, 2022
300 yds up, 1342 elevation. pic.twitter.com/dsA1kNW9O9
The former SMU standout was selected by the Ravens in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft and just completed his second season in the league. The fact that he recorded career highs across the board in 2021 doesn’t say much given that he was targeted just three times as a rookie. That year, he only recorded one reception for 14 yards and his other two targets resulted in interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in two different games against the Steelers.
Proche finished his sophomore season with 16 receptions on 20 targets for 202 receiving yards and no touchdowns. Those totals are not minuscule, but they were disappointing to no fault of his own considering how he consistently dominated and made plays throughout OTA’s, training camp, and the preseason.
The Ravens had a pair of recently drafted first-rounders — Rashod Bateman and Marquise Brown — veteran acquisition Sammy Watkins, and his fellow 2020 draftee Devin Duvernay ahead of him on the depth chart. Even so, many expected Proche to have a larger and more regulars role in the offense in 2021 after he turned so many heads in the summer.
The underutilized pass-catcher made the most of his limited opportunities when they came his way more often than not. He was excellent operating out of the slot with the way he went up and got low to haul in the ball in addition to his crisp route running. Proche proved that he had a nose for the line to gain and a natural feel for where the soft spots are in zone coverage. His average depth of target was an impressive 10.1 yards, 10 of his receptions resulted in first downs and he showed an ability to make plays after the catch.
With Watkins likely not to return, Proche could and should be in store for an increased role in 2022. His presence as a consistent chain mover and reliable relief valve for his quarterback will make him a valuable asset. The Ravens can’t afford to have him in street clothes as a healthy scratch or sitting on the sideline as opposing defenses key on All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews in key conversion situations.
Nothing in the league, much like life, can ever be fully guaranteed. However, as long as Proche can stay healthy and available, there’s no doubt that he will train his hardest to put the Ravens’ offense and the team overall in a position to get back to the playoffs.