The Buffalo Bills had some inside knowledge when it came to their final pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
North Carolina wide receiver Austin Proehl joined the team as the 255th and penultimate overall selection in the seventh round. Proehl is the son of long-time NFL receiver Ricky Proehl, who later worked as the wide receivers coach from 2013-16 on the Carolina Panthers' staff alongside Bills coach Sean McDermott.
"I've had a pre-existing relationship with them," Austin Proehl said of McDermott and Bills General Manager Brandon Beane, who previously worked in Carolina's front office. "Coach McDermott's a great coach, first and foremost. Brandon Beane's obviously a great GM. They're both guys that I respect with the highest honor. I can't wait to play for them. I can't wait to uphold the Buffalo Bills' standard that they play with."
Proehl, who attended Providence High School and is from Charlotte, played in just six games for the Tar Heels in 2017, missing 5 1/2 weeks because of a broken collarbone. He finished with 21 catches for 337 yards and one touchdown.
"It was definitely hard to deal with," Proehl said of the injury. "Football is everything to me in my life. I've been around it my whole life, ever since I was born. It was something that God put me through. It made me realize how much I love this game. ... I was blessed enough to come back with two weeks left in the season. I am 100-percent healthy now, ready to go to work. Ready to give Buffalo and all the fan base, everything I have each and every day."
Proehl, 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the NFL’s regional combine in Tampa, a time that would have tied for third among wide receivers at the scouting combine.
“I’ve known him since he was 8, so I’ve known him for a long time,” he said. “He’s had a good career and it so happens we were still looking for competition at the slot position and he was on the board. He’s a great young man. Obviously Sean and I both worked with his dad. I knew his dad as a player, so I know what kind of person and hard work he’s done. He’s a really polished route runner. He was schooled up by a guy who played 17 years in the league, so he’ll be a good fit.”
Ricky Proehl was a third-round draft pick by the then Phoenix Cardinals in 1990. He went on to spend time with the Seahawks, Bears, Rams, Panthers and the Colts, playing on two Super Bowl championship teams.
“To have that coach and dad relationship that we have, I mean it's huge,” Austin Proehl said. “Just being able to look to him in certain situations, look to him when I need it, and ways that he pushes me, it's just an unbelievable resource for me. Throughout this process, he's been able to teach me things and give me advice that I could have never got from anyone else in this world.”
Ricky Proehl left the Panthers after the 2016 season so that he could attend his son's games and help him prepare for the draft.
"There's a lot of anxiety — it's your son," Ricky Proehl told The Charlotte Observer. "You know, when you're out there doing it, it's a lot easier, but when you know what's at stake, it's tough as a dad."