By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Just a year removed from drafting a wide receiver in the first round, the Patriots find themselves back in the market for an impact pass catcher. The process of finding new weapons currently has the Pats coaching staff in Birmingham, Alabama for this year’s Senior Bowl. Three days into their trip, indications are things are going well. Per a report from Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline, Patriots scouts were “gushing over” SMU wide receiver James Proche (pronounced pro-SHAY).
So who is this player that has the Pats scouting department all worked up? Proche was a four-year contributor at SMU after redshirting as a freshman. As a senior, he posted career-highs in catches (111), yards (1225), and touchdowns (15), and became the 10th player in AAC history to be unanimously named first-team all-conference. He also served as the Mustang’s punt returner three of his four years, averaging nearly 10 yards per return as a senior.
James "big-time catch" Proche! (Via @ESPN) https://t.co/aZv0TsS7O0
What about Proche has the Patriots scouts “gushing”? The first thing that stands out when watching him at SMU is his ability to win in contested situations. While not ‘small’ by any means, Proche doesn’t have the frame of a typical jump-ball wide receiver, measuring in for his senior year at 6 feet, 193 pounds. However, he's able to time and high-point passes while fighting through contact. He combines his strong hands with solid footwork and a wide catch radius, making him an attractive down-field option.
So why is Proche currently being projected a fourth round pick? He’ll need to improve his explosiveness (especially off the line of scrimmage) to unlock his potential as a deep threat at the next level. Adding muscle will also be crucial, in order to help him beat press coverage. It looks like he has the ‘want to’ as a blocker, which is something the Patriots factor in, but again strength is an issue.
James Proche just attacks the ball in the air better than everyone; his ball skills are absurd. https://t.co/OpYKDxDX0a
Ultimately though, there is a lot for the Patriots to like in Proche. A four down player with an expanded route tree and nose for the ball fits the blueprint of the kind of player who would succeed in New England. With Phillip Dorsett heading to free agency, Proche could fill the role of a situational wide receiver a fraction of the cap hit it would take to re-sign Dorsett. It’s always a dangerous game predicting how Bill Belichick will handle the NFL Draft, but on the surface it’s not a surprise Patriots scouts are “gushing” over Proche.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth