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Ravens’ unheralded wide receivers are stepping up and standing out

The position group that is much maligned in the media is starting to heat up as a whole.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens Training Camp Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

One of the brightest stars at the start of training camp for the Baltimore Ravens was second-year wide receiver Rashod Bateman. He is widely viewed around the league as a prime breakout candidate for the 2022 season and he got off to a blazing start to camp making play after play against what many believe will be one of, if not the best secondary in the NFL this year.

However, since he missed the team’s last few practices, the Ravens have several of their widely unknown and to some, much maligned, receivers step up to the plate and showcase their playmaking ability in his absence.

The most notable of the unheralded bunch has been James Proche who is entering his third season and is poised to carve out a role in the offense this year. He has been a frequent and reliable target for starting quarterback Lamar Jackson all over the field and at every level of the defense.

The sixth-rounder in 2020 out of SMU had an impressive training camp last year but wound up being buried on the depth chart behind the likes of Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, and Bateman when he returned from injury.

“He’s doing excellent,” Wide Receivers Coach Tee Martin said. “He had a really good camp last season, and I think he’s doing even better this year, because he’s taken the next step – another year of experience. He played a little bit more in games last year, and he understands the opportunity in front of him.

Given that the Ravens feature their tight ends in the passing game and offense overall more than their wideouts, snaps, and targets were hard to come by for those that were lower in the pecking order behind the top two or three options at the position.

Nevertheless, Proche still managed to flash in limited opportunities and caught 16 of 20 targets for 202 receiving yards compared to just one reception on three targets he logged as a rookie. He is consistently stacking one good practice after another and unlike last year, the Ravens didn’t sign a stop-gap veteran on a one-year rental and snapped their streak of drafting a pair of players at the position that dated back to 2018.

That means he will have ample opportunity to see the field early and often on offense as long as he keeps making plays and translates his impressive practices into standout performance in the preseason.

“This year, it’s about his opportunity to step up and show why he’s been here so long and make the plays for our team that we need him to make,” Martin said.

The other wideouts that have been turning heads and heating up in training camp as of late include a handful of current and former undrafted rookies. Second-year pros Binjimen Victor and Jaylon Moore have come up with a few impressive and acrobatic snags as have first-year players Slade Bolden, Shemar Bridges, and Makai Polk.

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman recently gave Moore an endorsement after he stacked up some strong practices and even went as far as to say that “he’s putting himself in position to make the team and have a role”.

“I think the wide receiver position is wide open, and I see Jaylon [Moore] competing for a spot; I see other guys competing for spots,” Roman said. “But he’s definitely shown himself as somebody who can factor in.”

He went on to say that it’s too early to definitively say that anyone from the undrafted bunch will have cemented a roster spot and that a lot will be determined over the next few weeks. The Ravens kick off their preseason with a home game against the Tennessee Titans this upcoming Thursday.

Exhibition games will provide their young receivers the opportunity to prove themselves in live action against another team and not the same teammates they’ve been lining up against in practice since the spring.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Proche said. “A lot of stuff we need to work on, a lot of stuff we need to fix. We just have to keep getting better.”