The Baltimore Ravens have experienced change at the wide receiver position this offseason. Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta shocked the nation when he sent Baltimore’s No. 1 receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to the Arizona Cardinals in a draft-day trade that netted the Ravens an additional first-round selection. Brown’s departure means sophomore receiver Rashod Bateman is Baltimore’s top wide receiver heading into 2022. Bateman has plenty to prove as a second-year talent after injuries derailed much of his rookie campaign, but he’ll encounter little competition from the receivers behind him on the depth chart.
While Bateman is expected to serve as a clear-cut top target for the Ravens’ passing game in 2022, who will emerge as the starter opposite the former Minnesota product has become a question worth asking. Devin Duvernay (53), Tylan Wallace (two), and James Proche II (17), who have combined for 72 career receptions, are in contention. One of these receivers is expected to earn significantly more playing time in 2022. Recent reports have indicated that Proche is in the driver’s seat after allegedly stringing together several impressive practices throughout organized team activities (OTAs) while separating himself from the pack.
The Ravens surprisingly didn’t select a single receiver in April’s draft despite making a league-high 11 selections. Additionally, the Ravens haven’t signed a notable free-agent receiver this offseason, and veteran pass-catcher Sammy Watkins departed for an opportunity with the Green Bay Packers. Proche’s opportunity is there for the taking.
Proche originally entered the league as a sixth-round selection out of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in the 2020 NFL Draft. Proche was extremely productive in SMU’s pass-friendly offense, leading the nation with a staggering 111 receptions in his final season of college football. Proche also scored 15 receiving touchdowns that same season. Proche’s flashes at the NFL level have since then been few and far between, but he did secure seven-of-eight targets for 76 yards in a Week 16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Proche now appears primed to carry that momentum over into the 2022 campaign. In total, Proche finished his sophomore season by totaling 16 receptions for 202 receiving yards and zero touchdowns.
The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Proche has showcased exceptional ball skills dating back to his collegiate days. Best described as a reliable target, Proche brings an advanced skill set and reliability to a Ravens passing offense that requires those qualities in bunches. Although he lacks the downfield speed to replicate what Baltimore lost in Brown this offseason, Proche’s ball-tracking abilities and above-the-rim nature allow him to make plays of the intermediate and deep variety. Proche’s instincts should allow him to flounder when afforded a larger role.
It’s worth noting whoever wins Baltimore’s No. 2 receiver job will actually serve as the third pass-catching option in what’s expected to be another RPO-based, run-heavy scheme. Elite starting tight end Mark Andrews will receive the majority of attention from quarterback Lamar Jackson as Baltimore’s go-to target. Andrews enjoyed the first 1,000-plus receiving yard season (1,361) of his career in 2021 while also catching a career-high 107 passes. Andrews has shown no sign of slowing down and another 1,000-plus yard season appears on the horizon for the former third-round selection out of Oklahoma.
Assuming he wins the job, the presence of Andrews and Bateman doesn’t mean Proche won’t receive a career-best amount of passing targets. Serving as the No. 2 receiver would mean Proche sees the field with terrific consistency in Baltimore’s base personnel (even if he’s asked to block for Jackson and J.K. Dobbins more than he’s asked to run routes).
Baltimore’s offseason indicates they’re returning to their run-heavy roots and 12 personnel looks. DeCosta retained fullback Patrick Ricard in free agency, drafted two offensive linemen (Tyler Linderbaum and Daniel Faalele), signed another (Morgan Moses), and drafted two tight ends (Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely). DeCosta made all of these moves while essentially ignoring a newfound need at receiver.
Proche could eventually benefit from a lack of attention from opposing secondaries who will be forced to stop Baltimore’s rushing attack and the threat Andrews and Bateman pose first and foremost. Baltimore’s positional skirmish is worth following with intrigue throughout training camp. Proche sticks out as the early favorite.
- Sep 29, 2023
- Sep 29, 2023