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    Kansas City Chiefs: Should We Be Bullish or Bearish on Rashee Rice?

    Should we be bullish or bearish on Rashee Rice's fit in the Kansas City Chiefs offense? The SMU product might have the tools to produce where others have not.

    The 2023 NFL Draft has passed, and the Kansas City Chiefs have added another weapon to their offensive cast in SMU wide receiver Rashee Rice. Should we be bullish or bearish on Rice’s ability to contribute to the Chiefs’ offense? Let’s take a closer look at how he fits and what he can provide.

    Kansas City Chiefs’ Offense an Ideal Landing Spot

    Just the affiliation of a player with the Chiefs’ offense tends to generate excitement. It’s a testament not only to what Andy Reid has built in Kansas City but also the quality of play that Patrick Mahomes brings to the quarterback position.

    Reid and Mahomes are a Hall of Fame duo, and the offense flows smoothly around them, no matter who is in the personnel grouping. But as efficient as the Chiefs’ offense is every year, some draft selections don’t always perform to their billing — peculiarly enough.

    In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Chiefs selected LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire at the bottom of Round 1. He was expected to be not only a dynamic running threat but also a valuable receiving weapon out of the backfield. Instead, he maxed out at 803 rushing yards and 36 catches in 2020, and after an uninspiring 2022, his fifth-year option was declined.

    Go back one more year, and you’ll come across the selection of Mecole Hardman. Hardman was selected in Round 2 with the 56th overall pick. With his 4.33 speed, he was expected to reinforce the Chiefs’ dynamism. Ultimately, however, he was little more than a complementary threat — never eclipsing 693 yards — and he left to sign with the Jets in 2023.

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    Even for 2022 NFL Draft product Skyy Moore, the early returns haven’t matched the excitement that came with his marriage to the Chiefs. Moore tested very well — running a 4.41 40-yard dash — and was known for his work at the line coming out of Western Michigan. But after being picked 54th overall, he only caught 22 passes for 250 yards in his first season in Kansas City.

    It’s long been known that the sum of the parts is, at times, more compelling than the individual pieces for the Kansas City Chiefs offense. And ultimately, it’s the brilliance of Reid and Mahomes — as well as the timeless excellence of tight end Travis Kelce — that keeps the engine humming even amidst yearly turnover.

    These factors invite a tepid optimism for 2023 NFL Draft selection Rashee Rice, who the Chiefs picked at 55th overall. Rice dominated in 2022, putting up 96 catches for 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns after going for 1,353 receiving yards in the two years prior.

    On the surface, Rice has the skill set to make a difference and be productive while doing so. But production hasn’t always followed for Chiefs’ early-round picks on offense. Will things be different with Rice?

    How Does Rashee Rice Fit the Chiefs’ Offense?

    If you’re looking for a reason to be bullish on Rice’s fit in Kansas City, I’ll point you to one word: Variety.

    The Chiefs aren’t reinventing the wheel on every down when they drive the ball down the field. It helps that Kansas City’s players — from the offensive linemen to the QB himself — are coached extremely well in the fine details. It’s one of the NFL’s standard-bearer offensive units when it comes to execution, but the Chiefs also employ plenty of schematic variety.

    Kansas City’s offensive progression always changes with the opponent, based on the style of defense they face. But often, you’ll see the Chiefs use stacked alignments and staggered WR depths to help create space for WRs off the snap. The Chiefs also use a variety of spread and bunch sets to manipulate the defense’s spacing.

    Simply put, the Chiefs’ offense is variable. And so, too, is Rice’s skill set at WR. That’s something that may help him in comparison to the Chiefs’ more recent WR selections, who have been more one-dimensional.

    Rashee Rice’s 3-Level Framework Invites Confidence

    There’s definite value in having a sparkplug like Hardman or Moore in the WR corps. And it’s likely that the Chiefs were following the blueprint they first utilized with Tyreek Hill. The problem is, neither Moore nor Hardman is the technician or the catch-point savant that Hill has grown to be on top of his elite athletic profile.

    Against longer, more physical defensive backs, the size of Hardman and Moore naturally restricts their dimensionality. But Rice’s physical skill set gives him an edge in multiple departments. Rice has a very exciting three-level threat framework, and it’s all a product of his complete physical tools.

    It makes sense to start with the numbers. Rice is 6’1 “, 204 pounds, with near-33″ arms. And at that size, he’s a supremely explosive athlete. At the NFL Combine, he logged a 41″ vertical and a 10’8” broad jump. He also ran a strong 4.51 40-yard dash, with a 10-yard split in the 97th percentile.

    Rice is long, dense, explosive, and a high-energy athlete, and that physical foundation sets the stage for his three-level prowess. Before the catch, at the catch, and after the catch, Rice shows plenty of promise — but especially in the latter two phases.

    With his vertical athleticism, Rice can stress defensive backs downfield, and he’s a nightmare to deal with at the catch point with his wingspan, body control, ability to box out DBs, and his hand/eye coordination. Meanwhile, after the catch in open space, his blend of twitch, agility, burst, and contact balance is just as dangerous.

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    Where Rice stands to grow is as a route runner, but even there, he brings potential. This quote from my 2023 NFL Draft scouting report on Rice exemplifies this well:

    “Rice does most of his damage at and after the catch, but he brings definite route-running upside and a degree of immediate utility. Rice has several releases in his arsenal already. He can use a split release with quick footwork to manipulate leverage early in reps. He’s also shown to control tempo on routes out of a slide release, and he has a quick-twitch diamond release as well.

    Not only does Rice have a release package, but he has flashed the ability to work off of them. The SMU WR can quickly press upfield off releases, then cut inside with an efficient plant-and-drive technique. To that end, he’s able to accelerate quickly upfield, then stop suddenly and leave DBs lurching at stems.”

    Rice’s short-area athleticism and physicality project very well in the route-running phase. And it’s also important to note that, for most of the 2022 season, he was playing through a toe injury. That injury sapped at his explosiveness and also impacted his consistency as a route runner. Now that he’s healthy — assuming he stays that way — he should fare better.

    Rice Enhances the Chiefs’ Variability on Offense

    Even in spite of Rice’s strengths, there are some reasons to be apprehensive. He does still need to refine his route running. Even if he’s shown flashes, he doesn’t always run routes at full speed and urgency. And while he has the physicality to combat press, he doesn’t always time extensions effectively or maintain synergy on reps.

    Additionally, while Rice is healthy now, foot and toe injuries can be lingering ailments, and some are chronic. If Rice’s toe injury returns and plagues him at the NFL level, it could have a negative effect on his output and overall availability for the Chiefs.

    Nevertheless, if Rice can stay healthy, his skill set is all-encompassing and, most importantly, variable. And it naturally allows the Chiefs to expand on what they do best — being variable as well.

    MORE: Kansas City Chiefs 2023 NFL Draft Grades

    From the Chiefs’ perspective, there are countless ways you can use Rice if he’s healthy. You can line him up on the boundary one on one, where he can be a ball-winner on go routes with his explosiveness and elite catching instincts. That same explosiveness, along with his contact balance, allows him to be utilized on designed WR screens.

    Going further, you can use Rice as a chain-mover on short slants and curls. And with the Chiefs’ stacked alignments and staggered depths, he can also line up in the slot. There, he can utilize that artificial separation to his advantage as a RAC weapon or function as a vertical seam threat with his explosive athleticism.

    There’s still work for Rice to do to fully develop his game and maximize his efficiency in all phases. But the Chiefs like to do many different things on offense, and Rice can do many different things with his well-rounded profile. For that reason alone, he may end up being more productive than past WR selections.

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