Of the seven selections the Kansas City Chiefs made in last weekend’s NFL Draft, wide receiver Rashee Rice may be the most important for judging the overall performance of general manager Brett Veach.
The Chiefs traded up in the second round to select the SMU product with the 55th overall selection.
At over 6 feet tall, Rice is taller than most of Kansas City’s other wide receivers — yet his college film shows the yards-after-the-catch abilities more typical of the smaller, speedier options. Rice is proud of combining both skill sets at the position.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” the rookie said of his after-catch moves while speaking from the team’s rookie minicamp on Saturday, “just because some other people can’t do it. It’s like, smaller receivers can, some bigger receivers can’t, and I feel like — just being a bigger body and being able to do that and have athleticism — I just take a lot of pride in that.”
Rookie wide receivers have notoriously had difficulty quickly transitioning to head coach Andy Reid’s offense due to the learning curve of interchangeable roles. Rice believes that he has what it takes to make plays in the slot lined up on the perimeter.
“I think I’m comfortable anywhere on the field to where I can get a mismatch or have the ball in my hands,” he declared.
Rice’s tape also shows contested catch ability that differentiates him from the team’s other wideouts. He confirmed that it is something he has intentionally practiced — drawing on abilities from another sport he played in high school.
“Repetition on just being able to be comfortable catching the ball,” he explained of the process. “Some people are naturally gifted at being able to make those catches. I just kind of practice it and translate my basketball game from high school into going up top and basically grabbing a rebound.”
After Rice’s selection, we learned he had spent time working out with quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the pre-draft process. The rookie revealed in his comments what his now-teammate has advised him to do in his transition to the league.
“Honestly, just taking ahold of everything,” he recalled of Mahomes’ advice. Not letting anything overwhelm me — and just taking everything day-by-day so I can learn the plays and stuff like that.”
He is already at work learning the plays — and understanding how his new offense will be different from what he knew in college.
“For me, in college, it was a lot of not huddling and getting signals,” he said of his Saturdays as a Mustang. “Here, I’m huddling up and running up to the line of scrimmage and basically having to not overthink but be ready to know my assignment and be ready to adjust to the defense.”
While the plays are not necessarily new, he admits he has work to do with the Chiefs’ terminology.
“There’s a lot of similarities — just different wording,” Rice observed of the playbook. “I call certain words, like a ‘hitch,’ it’s a different call over here. When I tell Coach it’s a hitch route, he’ll be like, ‘You’ve got to learn our terminology because that’s not what we call it.’ So I’m just really learning how to understand and being able to communicate with my coach.”
Even so, he credited the same Chiefs coaching staff — particularly offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and wide receivers coach Connor Embree — for making him already feel like part of the team when he visited Kansas City on a top 30 visit leading to the draft.
“I kind of felt the relationship me and coach Embree had,” he remembered of the visit. “[Also] Coach Nagy. It was just kind of comfortable — and with them being a championship team, I knew I wanted to come be a part of that.
“It wasn’t so much what they said to me; it was kind of how they treated. Just kind of made me feel comfortable, even though I wasn’t a part of the team yet.”
Rice comes to Kansas City from an outstanding season for SMU: 96 catches for 1355 yards and ten touchdowns. We recently learned that his breakout came even as he spent much of 2022 battling turf toe. While he persevered through the ailment, he feels it cost him an even more prolific stat sheet.
“It impacted in a way that I could have been a lot more explosive,” he lamented. “Just me being mentally tough — and knowing that I had a lot of people behind me — it’s kind of ‘just keep pushing through.’ I had a great season.”
How great of a season the Chiefs have in 2023 may rest on how much Rice can contribute as a rookie. As he begins his professional career this weekend, he is realistic about the challenges to come.
“I’m very excited,” he reiterated. “I haven’t gotten the full experience yet. I know I’m in for a lot — to be honest. I’m ready for it.”