Over the last month, Kansas City Chiefs rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice has statistically been among the league’s best. As his first professional season nears its conclusion, Rice concedes that the individual goals he brought into the league have now been supplanted by what lies ahead of his team.
“Truthfully speaking,” Rice said before Thursday’s practice, “I don’t really remember those goals anymore. It’s just been a long season and kind of a blur from all those goals I had just because everything doesn’t go as planned all the time. Maybe when I look back, I’ll have overcome all those goals, but we’re on to bigger things right now.”
Rice’s rookie season has been an unquestioned success. Through 14 games, he has hauled in 68 catches for 754 yards, and a Chiefs’ rookie record seven receiving touchdowns. Speaking before Rice on Thursday, quarterback Patrick Mahomes praised the rookie for the extra work he has put in with veteran wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson and star tight end Travis Kelce. Mahomes challenged the rookie to step his game up even more.
“He’s still got a lot he can improve on,” the NFL’s biggest star declared, “which is crazy to say [because] he’s had such a great season. The little things that NFL receivers do — he’s got the explosiveness [and] he knows how to run the routes, but there’s nuance in how you run the routes [and] how you set one route up to run another one.
“I’ll say this: he’s taken from the veterans — from Marquez, from Justin Watson, from Travis — he listens, learns as much as he can, and tries to take that in. I think that’s why he’s gotten better and better as the season’s gone on.”
Rice agreed with his quarterback’s assessment.
“Truthfully speaking, everything,” he said of his targeted areas for improvement. “I’m young, and I feel like every time I’m out there, there’s vets on the field. Every time I’m out there, I’m looking to learn something from all those guys. If it’s the smallest thing — or even if it’s the biggest thing — I’m going to try to put it into my game as soon as possible.”
After his record-setting touchdown catch from running back Jerick McKinnon against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Mahomes made certain to get Rice the ball as a keepsake. He appreciates his teammate’s gesture but sees the mark as one of what will hopefully be many big moments in Kansas City.
“I plan on putting the ball somewhere safe to where my kid can’t play with it all the time,” Rice revealed. “I cherish that moment when it happened, but I look forward to many great moments with the team and with Pat.”
Rookies are now entering a part of the season that tests their bodies. Rice is learning to continue pushing his body into December at a time when some of his teammates from SMU last season last played on December 2 while preparing for their upcoming bowl appearance.
As with his improvements on the field, Rice praised the Chiefs’ veterans for helping him handle what for him is an extended season.
“The vets on the team in general,” he explained, “we’ve got guys who have been through the physical part, a lot of running part, and the mental part. I have a lot of vets that I can ask plenty of questions depending on what I’m feeling like.
Rice also has a plan for handling the extra attention his recent big performances will command from opposing defenses going forward.
“Just like I embrace every week,” he stated, “[by] not letting the outside stuff get to me and knowing that if I’m handling what I have to handle in practice, then it’ll take care of itself in games.”
On Christmas afternoon, Rice and his teammates will welcome the Las Vegas Raiders to Arrowhead Stadium. In the Chiefs’ Week 12 31-17 victory in Las Vegas, Rice put up his best statistical game of his career thus far with eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown.
He knows that the same opponent twice in a short period will be an extra challenge.
“They’ve got a great defense,” Rice said of the Raiders. “We ran a lot of plays against them. This is our second time playing them, so they should be prepared for a lot of plays we have in store. They have great film on us from this year. We have great film on them this year. So, we’re going to just get at it on Christmas Day.”