Ravens training camp: James Proche a hidden-gem rookie to watch

The Ravens used a sixth-round NFL Draft pick on SMU’s James Proche, who might fly under the radar until potentially breaking out during training camp.

There were a ton of NFL Draft picks I really liked for the Baltimore Ravens this year and a few that made me scratch my head a little (a lot) at the time. Looking back on the slate in its entirety, it’s a good group with a few more weapons on offense, some talented bodies to compete for interior offensive line picks and a major upgrade to the defensive front seven, LSU linebacker Patrick Queen.

But my draft crush this year, based on both ability and value, is wide receiver James Proche. The 5-foot-11, 201-pound sixth-round receiver out of SMU is able to play both out wide and in the slot and is considered a reliable punt returner who makes good decisions and gets the most out of his returns. He isn’t a blazer, and he doesn’t use brute strength or explosion to get off the line, but he manages to get himself where the quarterback expects him to be, when he expects him to be there.

And, to top it off, he’s very slippery after the catch, meaning he has the ability to grab a slant or crossing route and make some serious hay out of it.

Oh, and he can catch the ball. Like, really, really catch the ball:

He’s also a gamer, with some of his best performances coming in big games for SMU. Dan Bernstein of The Sporting News wrote that Proche “caught seven passes for 173 yards and a touchdown against an undefeated UCF squad in 2017 and 12 passes for 100 yards and two scores against the Knights a year later. He caught 11 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns at Michigan in 2018.”

For a team that relies as heavily on the run as the Ravens do, it is imperative receivers catch the ball. A lot of their throws come on third down, and even a drop on first down puts them behind the down-and-distance quotient, thus restricting their play-call arsenal. For instance, 2nd-and-10 after a drop makes it a little tougher to call a run on second down, thus changing the scope of Baltmore’s offense.

Along with Marquise Brown and third-rounder Devin Duvernay, the Ravens now have three sticky-handed receivers who can line up all over the field, and the hope is last year’s third-round selection, Miles Boykin, takes a big step forward this year in his development.

Add in tight ends Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle, and some nice options out of the backfield, and the Ravens have more weapons at their disposal this year than last.

Proche should get a lot of looks in training camp, particularly with Brown already having established himself as a go-to option for the offense. Tack on Proche’s special teams abilities, and it wouldn’t be shocking for him to be one of those names frequently discussed during camp reports between now and Week 1.

The guess here is Proche ends up playing a big role for this team into the future, at the cost of a sixth-round pick.