Dallas (PFM) — Southern Methodist University isn’t exactly known as the breeding ground for top-level wide receivers in the National Football League; however, SMU has produced some of the NFL’s best receivers over the past couple of years including Courtland Sutton of the Denver Broncos and new New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Baltimore Ravens sixth-round pick James Proche, who had 111 receptions last season, is hoping to be another one of those.
Proche was the 29th receiver selected in the draft, but that doesn’t bother him at all. He’s always been a tough competitor with a really strong work ethic. “James’ strongest attribute is his intangibles, ” his position coach at SMU, David Gru, recently told Pro Football Magazine. “He’s as competitive as they come, his work ethic is elite.”
Many in the scouting community also had Proche graded much higher than a sixth-rounder, and even though he isn’t the biggest guy or the fastest (around a 4.50 40-yard), “he makes up for it with his work ethic and perfecting the tools he does have,” says Gru.
On tape, it was obvious that Proche, did perfect those tools, including his very strong route running and contested catch ability. Proche has the unique ability to always find a way to get open. Don’t count out the deep threat either. “He (Proche) will always be a deep threat because he has developed such strong body control, which allows him to track and separate late to the football with elite focus,” Coach Gru says.
With Proche’s skillset, it was sort of a mystery to many why he fell to the sixth-round in the 2020 NFL Draft, but teams did have concerns about size and durability.
James Proche has a kidney condition, resulting from kidney failure in high school, but he has bounced back from it extremely well. Gru tells us that Proche, or Pro as they call him, doesn’t have any endurance issues and never wants to come off the field. That’s another testament to the competitive spirit that Proche brings to the table.
There was also some debate about whether Proche would play on the outside or in the slot in the NFL. But Gru, who probably knows him best, thinks he’s most valuable as a slot receiver. “His (Proche’s) skillset is similar to Julian Edelman, and I think Pro is best fit at the slot and being utilized in that sort of way,” he says. “I think, with the skillset of the other Ravens’ outside wide receivers, he complements the pass game well by being very reliable underneath and keeping drives alive.”
Gru also tells Pro Football Magazine that much like Edelman, Proche’s value as a receiver in the NFL was hard to measure, which likely means a lot of teams passed on a very talented receiver multiple times.
In looking at Proche’s game, the high-level production was obvious and the competitive nature stood out on tape. In Baltimore, Proche joins an already high-powered offense and should be able to continue producing there immediately.
Maybe James Proche is not the next Julian Edelman, or maybe he is, time will tell. Coach Gru certainly sees the similarities and thinks that Proche is a “competitor, a warrior, and a legitimate threat as a slot (receiver) in the NFL for many years to come.”
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)