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Film Review: Rashee Rice has traits that are worth a gamble

Kansas City’s second-round pick could have a high NFL ceiling.

NCAA Football: Memphis at Southern Methodist Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

With the 55th pick in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected SMU wide receiver Rashee Rice. While this pick surprised many observers, I was high on him throughout the draft process.

Let’s take a look at what Rice gives the Chiefs:

Body control and positioning

You’re always looking for a prospect’s standout trait when evaluating draft prospects. With Rice, that’s his body control.

The Mustangs built a large chunk of their offense through Rice’s contested-catch ability; some of his catches were legitimately special.

On this rep, Rice isn’t the designed read — but when the front-side safety doesn’t cap Rice vertically, the quarterback decides to hit Rice down the seam. Rice isn’t even running at full speed, but he still gets a good position on the cornerback’s outside shoulder before bringing down an insane over-his-head catch.

Rice’s ability to box out defenders (and get the football) stands out. He’s a well-coordinated athlete who leverages his size and strength well — and on 50-50 balls like this one, his ball-tracking and body control are special.

While he does have some drop issues, Rice’s hands are insanely strong. He can make catches away from his frame and through contact.

Coverage and leverage recognition

Rice also reads zone coverages and leverages well — and understands how to find openings that can beat zone coverages.

On this play, Rice is running an option route from the slot. Once he recognizes the linebacker holding inside leverage, Rice snaps out to the flat. While this is a straightforward rep, this type of recognition consistently appears on film.

This play is a better representation of Rice finding windows. He’s running a slant against press coverage — but Maryland is playing Cover 2. Most wideouts would just run their slant route — which would likely lead to a linebacker making an interception over the middle. But Rice recognizes the coverage and stops his route, giving his quarterback a window to hit him in coverage.

On film, Rice’s football IQ stands out.

Yards after catch

The most significant difference between Rice and other possession wideouts is how dynamic he is with the ball in his hands. In the open field, he’s an incredibly explosive athlete who can use his speed to pull away from defenders. While he doesn’t have elite fifth-gear speed, he can quickly cover a lot of ground as he gets to full speed.

Rice is also creative with the ball in his hands. Even as a somewhat raw prospect, he has good spatial awareness — and knows how to break tackles. He doesn’t just outrun or overpower smaller defenders. Instead, he creates extra yards with different start-stop moves and drop-steps to beat cornerbacks who are sinking downhill.

SMU’s offense didn’t allow Rice to maximize his ability after the catch — but at the next level, he has the feel (and athletic profile) to be a yards-after-catch monster.

Beating press coverage off the snap

On film, the biggest concern about Rice is how well he separates. There is some truth in saying he isn’t an elite separator — but it seems to have nothing to do with his size or athletic profile. He’s simply struggled to beat press coverage.

But this isn’t all his fault. The Mustangs wanted him to run a limited route tree against man coverage. When SMU saw press coverage, the team would almost always have Rice run a back-shoulder route to go up and get the ball.

While this was successful, it limited how Rice could learn to beat press coverage. Instead of trying to stack — or get on top of — a cornerback on the line of scrimmage, Rice had to win with body positioning and physicality.

So Rice needs a lot of work on his releases. His college film has flashes where he beat press — but in the NFL, that will be a key factor in determining his success.

Scramble drill

When playing with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, you have to be good in the scramble drill — and in college, Rice showed he could do it.

It’s another area where Rice’s feel for space helps him. When the play breaks down, he can find open voids in coverages while working to help his quarterback. Not every wide receiver can do it — but in the Kansas City offense, it’s a necessary skill.

The bottom line

In this draft, Rice was at the top of my third-round wide receiver grades— and was my eighth-ranked wideout. At the 55th pick, the only available wide receiver I had ranked ahead of him was Wake Forest wide receiver AT Perry, who went in the sixth round.

Rice has a lot of things he needs to improve. His struggles beating press coverage will keep him from immediately getting on the field — and his route-running could also use work. So Rice’s rookie impact might not be great.

Still... I like this pick. From my perspective, the wide receivers of this class tended to grade as average starters. After the first-round wideouts, I don’t see many stars; most are replacement-level players. Rice is one of the only guys who could exceed that projection.

Since they have head coach Andy Reid (and Mahomes), the Chiefs have a margin of error built into their offense. So I’m perfectly content with general manager Brett Veach taking this swing on a wide receiver. While I don’t feel great about Rice’s immediate value, betting on his future upside looks like a smart wager.

Grade: B+

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