NFL Draft: SMU’s dynamic receiving duo is next in line

The SMU Mustangs have quietly become a factory for NFL receivers. Are James Proche and Reggie Roberson Jr. the next two up?

Names like Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, and Cole Beasley are just a few of the most recent NFL wide receivers to hail from Southern Methodist University. In history, SMU has produced 14 wide outs that were selected in the NFL Draft, along with 3 other notable undrafted receivers. Through 2 weeks of the NFL season, SMU receivers have already caught 44 balls for 536 yards and 3 touchdowns combined. Now, in what seems like a pattern, SMU has two more NFL Draft prospects in its receiver room.

James Proche and Reggie Roberson Jr. are next up, but what makes them legit NFL Draft prospects? Well, for starters, last year they combined for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. Both a stand at about 6’0 and weigh in around 195-200 pounds. This body type has started to become the norm in the NFL Draft, as teams have started looking more toward separation and YAC ability instead of alpha jump-ball receivers and guys who run really fast. Both are having a strong start to the season, and both should be selected in this coming NFL Draft.

James Proche

James Proche‘s list of strengths starts with his hands. Some of the best in his class, Proche does a great job catching balls put in his general area. There was some lackluster QB play at SMU last season, but Proche did a good job helping his passers out when they gave him a catchable ball. Sometimes he even helped them out on balls that didn’t seem catchable.

Proche excels in the middle of the field due to a combination of strong route running and his contested catch ability. He also shows a good ability to gain yards after the catch. SMU does a good job trying to manufacture touches on screens and pick routes for him. The coaches understand he’s a playmaker, and they do their best to put the ball in his hands.

Proche has the ability to burn a defense, but he isn’t an electric athlete. He lacks game-changing speed and his athletic ability and physical build leave something to be desired. He projects as a slot receiver early in his career, but I do believe he has to ability to be a solid No. 2 guy on an NFL offense. However, his ceiling is in question, and I doubt he’ll ever be a guy the opposing defenses focus on stopping, despite him being the go-to guy in SMU’s offense.

Proche gives me a bit of a Golden Tate type of vibe. Currently, I grade Proche as a mid-Day 3 player in the 2020 NFL Draft. His limited ceiling is concerning, but his floor is very high for that of a rookie. Similar to how I viewed AJ Brown last season, without the elite production. 

Reggie Roberson Jr.

While James Proche dominates a majority of the SMU offensive touches, Reggie Roberson might be the most vital piece to the puzzle. Roberson is commonly used as the deep threat, requiring the attention of the defense. That opens up the short-to-intermediate parts of the field which Proche excels in.

Roberson has a career yards per reception of 15.7, an extremely respectable number. He has strong athleticism which he showcases in his deep routes. Additionally, he possesses an alpha mentality when the ball is in the air. Despite a lackluster frame, he tends to muscle his way into winning 50-50 balls. Roberson does little things like varying his releases and shows strong focus when the ball is in the air. These are the things that translate to the next level.

Roberson lacks excellent production, but it’s obvious that his skillset wasn’t maximized due to poor QB play. Roberson has been more free this year to play his game. He’s excelling down the field, but also getting touches in the short to intermediate parts of the field. Roberson’s skillset doesn’t translate as immediately to the NFL as Proche’s does, but his ceiling seems considerably higher.

Roberson has the makings of a go-to receiver with his natural deep speed and ability in contested situations. He lacks elite quickness but has enough mobility to be a threat after the catch. His route running is strong, and if he can show a little more effort as a blocker he’ll have minimal downside to his game. I currently grade Roberson as an early Day 3 pick for the 2020 NFL Draft.


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