With their final 2018 draft pick, the Buffalo Bills doubled down on late-round receivers, drafting Austin Proehl out of the University of North Carolina. What are his chances to make the team? Here’s the down-low.
Proehl grew up in North Carolina. He’s the son of NFL receiver Ricky Proehl, who played 17 seasons in the league on teams that qualified for four Super Bowls. A high school receiver and kick returner, Proehl was a three-star recruit who signed onto UNC despite his family’s history with in-state rival Wake Forest.
He played immediately as a freshman, a reserve wideout who appeared in 12 games, with 15 receptions for 106 yards. In his sophomore year, Proehl was again a reserve, playing in 12 games. He caught 12 passes for 222 yards and his first touchdown. In 2016, Mitch Trubisky took over under center and Proehl found good chemistry with the quarterback. He started seven games while playing in 13, ranking third on the team with 43 catches for 597 yards and three touchdowns. As a senior, Proehl’s season was cut short by a shoulder injury against Duke. He worked back to health in time for the last game of the year, ultimately playing in six games on the season. Proehl finished with 21 receptions for 337 yards and a touchdown, taking him over 1000 receiving yards in his career.
Proehl wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, but did attend a regional scouting combine in Tampa. He reportedly “stole the show” at the event, showing off fingertip catches and explosive cuts in his route running.
At his pro day, Proehl measured in at 5’9” and 182 pounds. He didn’t run the forty-yard dash, but had an impressive 6.75 three-cone drill, a 4.07 short shuttle, a 9’5” broad jump, and a 34” vertical leap.
Proehl’s catching technique is excellent. He plucks the ball out of the air away from his body, and he catches it without breaking stride as he runs. Even if the ball is off-target, Proehl is comfortable reaching above his head to complete the reception while maintaining his speed. He can track the ball over his shoulder on deeper routes.
He’s worked on his route-running craft and it shows. He sinks his hips at the top of his stem without losing speed, and tracks the defender’s positioning to set up cuts as he transitions out of a backpedal. Proehl effectively sells the depth of his routes off the snap.
Proehl’s lack of exceptional measurements limits his ceiling. He doesn’t have a great catch radius, and doesn’t have the deep speed to get open on go routes against most NFL cornerbacks. He drops his pads in anticipation of contact, but doesn’t have the bulk to bounce away from or drag defenders.
His lack of career production is concerning. From 2014-2016, UNC ranked 28th, 34th, and 22nd in national passing offense, but Proehl was the fourth or fifth option behind Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, Mack Collins, and Quinshad Davis.
Proehl’s attention to detail and the link to his impact receiver father suggest that he should be able to stick around the league in some form for at least a few years. In the best case, Proehl keeps developing his scheme knowledge, his routes get crisper, and he eventually becomes a reliable third down option from the slot who can occasionally flex outside. He’ll probably stand out in training camp, when contact is limited and receivers have an easier time working to space. As a seventh round flier, he’ll face an uphill battle until he proves himself in the league.