Every year, there are WR prospects who surprise, out-perform their draft capital, and emerge from the ranks as the group’s biggest stars. Does SMU WR Rashee Rice have the potential to be the 2023 NFL Draft class’ unheralded gem two years down the line? Let’s take a closer look at the tape.
Rashee Rice NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Wide Receiver
- School: SMU
- Current Year: Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’1″, 204 pounds
- Length: 32 3/4″
- Hand: 9 1/2″
No one’s giving SMU the “WRU” crown, but you can’t deny the talent the team has produced over the years. From accomplished, prestigious veterans like Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton, to up-and-coming catalysts like 49ers 2022 third-round pick Danny Gray, the Mustangs are one of the nation’s most underrated WR factories. And their best product yet might be hitting the shelves.
Rice was brought up as part of a venerable trio that included Gray and Reggie Roberson Jr. He was only a three-star recruit in 2019, but Rice came along quickly once he joined the Mustangs. He caught 25 passes for 403 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman, then emerged as a legitimate playmaker in 2020, with 48 catches for 683 yards and five scores.
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2021 saw another uptick in production for Rice, who amassed 64 catches for 670 yards and nine TDs alongside Gray. But once Gray departed in the 2022 NFL Draft, Rice was freed up to become the premier weapon in SMU’s attack. And that’s exactly what he did across the 2022 campaign.
Despite earning extra attention as the Mustangs’ primary weapon in 2022, Rice still dominated the stat sheet, putting up 96 catches for 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns across 12 games, all while dealing with a lingering foot injury.
A first-team All-AAC honoree alongside fellow 2023 NFL Draft WR prospect Tank Dell, Rice leveraged his season into a draft declaration, a Senior Bowl showing, and an NFL Combine invite. Now, he’s on the doorstep of the draft, and he could field early-round capital.
Rashee Rice Scouting Report
In what’s viewed as a relatively wide-open WR class, where does Rice rank, and can he be one of the group’s biggest gems? To get our answer, let’s take a closer look at the traits.
At 6’1″, 204 pounds, Rice has a dense, compact frame with excellent proportional length. With his frame density, reach, and overall athleticism, he can be a very valuable multi-phase threat.
Rice is an explosive athlete who accelerates incredibly quickly in open space. He’s shown to use curvilinear acceleration to efficiently gain speed on rounded breaks, and he also has the necessary long-track explosiveness to overtake and stack DBs in off-man coverage.
At the 2023 NFL Combine, Rice put up some of the best explosiveness numbers among WR prospects. His 41″ vertical and 10’8″ broad jump were both near the top of his position group, as was his blazing 1.49 10-yard split at 204 pounds.
Rice is explosive, and when he attacks upfield, he’s a long-strider with dangerous vertical speed. As his 4.51 40-yard dash exemplifies, his long speed isn’t quite elite, but he has enough juice to stack defenders and create space.
There’s a definite speed element to Rice’s game, both with his long strides and quick acceleration. But the SMU WR is also a very inspiring lateral athlete, with a heightened degree of twitch and foot speed at the line. He can use that twitch to generate displacement against defenders.
Rice is an amped-up short-area athlete who quickly chops his feet and redistributes his weight heading upfield. Similarly, Rice is extremely fleet-footed and twitchy in space, with an urgent tempo as a short-area mover.
Rice’s brand of athleticism translates well in multiple phases, but his creative capacity as a run-after-catch threat is especially appealing. He can make defenders miss with brisk jump cuts after the catch, then instantly accelerate forward. Moreover, he can destroy tackling angles with successive cuts and bursts of acceleration.
It’s easy to sell onlookers on Rice’s brand of athleticism, but his best trait is undoubtedly his elite catching instincts. Rice has a tremendous sense of timing and coordination at the catch point. He can effortlessly elevate and contort to guide the ball into his frame.
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He brings absurd body control and flexibility as a contested-catch artist and can work through contact to make gravity-defying catches. In that vein, Rice has incredible focus and control, even in contested situations, and can convert with defenders inside his frame.
Expanding on Rice’s instincts, the SMU WR is able to use his length to extend beyond his frame and high-point passes with authority. However, he’s not hasty or overaggressive. Rice has the instincts and patience to hold off on elevating for throws until the last possible second to avoid drawing opponents to the ball.
It helps that Rice has the vertical athleticism to spring into the air and quickly gain leverage in contested situations. Additionally, Rice tracks the ball extremely well downfield and can guide in passes even when pinched against the sideline.
Rice is a true acrobatic catcher who makes challenging adjustments look routine. He even draws defensive penalties at the catch point with his intimidating ability. But his instincts provide value even outside of contested situations. Rice very naturally flexes to corral imprecise throws over the middle of the field, and he can make RAC catches in stride. Moreover, Rice can make diving catches and protect the ball from the turf while lunging.
On top of his high-level instincts, Rice is a natural hands catcher with near-dominating hand strength. He instinctively secures passes away from his frame — often with diamond technique — and with his hand strength, he secures high-difficulty catches through contact and when imbalanced.
Rice is a clutch WR who consistently makes crucial chain-moving receptions with the threat of contact looming. In a way, he effortlessly flows through contact at the catch and always plays the ball.
Also impressive is Rice’s timing with his hands — not just his focus and consistency. He can quickly reach and snare passes with his hands, then sequentially cradle the ball inside his torso at contact with the ground. Even when elevating and contorting, the SMU WR makes a concerted effort to extend beyond his frame and catch with his hands.
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 has solid stopping ability and flashes throttle control. He can pinch tight angles at stems and get displacement on DBs, and he can swiftly chop his feet and swivel around on comebacks after baiting DBs vertically.
Going further, Rice can press upfield into breaks, then rapidly vary his stride lengths and sink his hips on transitions. He doesn’t often key in DBs on breaks with early head turns and is deliberate in uniformly pressing upfield. Additionally, Rice shows good zone awareness. The SMU WR can sneak into DB blindspots, flip around, and decelerate quickly in open seams.
As if his profile wasn’t exciting enough, Rice is also a chippy competitor with an alpha mentality, and he’s physical in multiple phases. He’ll actively use his frame and length to lever and wall off DBs before elevating for passes.
He’s able to pry through contact and work his way back to underthrown passes, and he actively uses single-hand swipes while breaking at stems to compound separation and keep his chest clean. Even with DBs in his hip pocket, Rice uses his length to scrape and swim free before elevating for passes.
After the catch, Rice displays a willingness to lower his shoulder and finish forward, although his style allows him to evade direct contact more often than not. Rice recollects his feet extremely quickly after adjusting for imprecise passes in open space. He effortlessly transitions to RAC mode and does so with quickness and consistency.
With his explosiveness and fluid hips, Rice can quickly recalibrate after making catches amidst contact and surge upfield. In short-yardage situations, he’ll actively contort to get ahead of the sticks while making catches amidst contact.
Among other things, Rice can easily shed arm tackles and recollect his feet to move upfield. As a blocker, his combination of length, play strength, and attitude translates very well.
Rice’s Areas for Improvement
While Rice is very explosive, he doesn’t always show elite initial burst off the line. He sometimes needs a bit of a runway to maximize his acceleration, and at times can channel more burst out of his stance. In a similar vein, Rice doesn’t quite have elite deep speed. He can stack DBs, but he’s not quite a breakaway threat after stacking.
Moving elsewhere, Rice sometimes unnecessarily jumps and swings his legs when corralling high passes. He could be more efficient with his motion to more quickly transition to the RAC phase. While he’s most often a hands catcher, Rice sometimes resorts to body catching and brings the ball into his frame before securing.
Additionally, Rice is prone to occasional drops when faced with contact, and he sometimes clasps and bobbles passes in tight situations. He has elite body positioning and control, but his hand-eye coordination — the completing piece to the catch puzzle — can be obstructed by threats of contact.
As a route runner, Rice has the most room to grow. He does have a working release package and has bright flashes as an independent separator. But he’ll need to be at a higher level more consistently if he wants to sustain production in the NFL.
Rice sometimes runs vertical routes at what appears to be less than full speed, to which he could also better use his speed to pressure DBs. Rice doesn’t always show elite stopping ability or hip sink on comeback routes and intermediate hitches, and he doesn’t have elite throttle control at this point. Rice sometimes struggles to manipulate his throttle and constrict strides heading into breaks.
Expanding on his route running, Rice sometimes rotates around at breaks, causing erroneous footwork and keying in DBs too early. On tighter transitions, his plant-and-drive technique could be more efficient. And overall, Rice can more consistently utilize and maximize his route-running building blocks.
Rice has room to expand his route tree, and he also experiences struggles against press at times. He has the short-area athleticism and length to work against press, but more physical DBs can throw off his rhythm and easily delay his work upfield. Rice also has wasted motion at times early in reps, which also serves to delay route concepts.
At times, Rice will attempt to purely outmuscle DBs, sacrificing route tempo and manipulation opportunities, as well as risking penalties. As a RAC threat, his ball security could use improvement. While his frame is dense, he won’t always withstand direct contact or work through solid form tackles, and he can more consistently fulfill his assignments as a run blocker.
Finally, Rice’s injury history is worth noting. His lingering foot injury in 2022 at times hampered his effectiveness, and foot injuries, in particular, can be chronic.
Current Draft Projection for SMU WR Rashee Rice
Opinions are split on Rice, but on my board, he grades out as a top-50 overall prospect and a top-10 WR talent in the 2023 NFL Draft. Running his traits through the three-level threat framework, Rice’s upside at WR is especially appealing, and if he can reach his ceiling, he can be a very exciting weapon in the NFL.
Right away, Rice’s build and athleticism presents appeal. At 6’1″, 204 pounds, with arms nearly 33″ long, he has excellent frame density and reach — traits that help him in multiple phases. He’s an explosive, physical RAC threat who can break both tackles and tackling angles. And at the catch point, he’s a massive headache for DBs with his length, alpha mentality, and abnormal instincts.
Rice’s catching instincts are elite, as he mixes together high-level body control, timing, ball-tracking ability, and hand strength. He’s an alpha with a “my ball” mentality and willing physicality. And after the catch, he’s a twitchy, energetic mover with explosiveness upfield who can shed arm tackles and use successive cuts to manipulate tackling angles.
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Creativity and cold competitive toughness are two of Rice’s strongest qualities, but he has a solid assortment of route-running building blocks, too. His twitch and foot speed naturally flow into his release package, and he’s shown he has enough stopping ability and hip sink to separate independently. He needs to maximize his skill set as a route runner, but the tools are there.
The biggest question with Rice is this: Can you get his best consistently? But if you can do that, and if you can fully develop his route running ability, you have a truly complete three-level threat who can win on the boundary as an X, play in the slot as a movement Z, and provide a versatile, dynamic playmaking presence with high-impact potential.
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report on Rashee Rice
Strengths: Playmaking receiver whose game took off last season. Quickly releases off the line of scrimmage, shows a tremendous burst, and immediately gets to top speed. Shows outstanding awareness and does a great job following the QB across the field. Display soft hands and pulls the ball from the air. Makes the difficult over-the-shoulder reception downfield with defenders draped on him.
Plays with outstanding quickness and extends his hands to make the reception away from his frame. Tracks the pass in the air and gets vertical to grab the ball. Consistent hands catcher who displays terrific eye/hand coordination. Gives effort blocking downfield and gets solid results.
Weaknesses: Has a thin build and struggles in battles. Must improve his route running. Not sharp into breaks and is all over the place with his footwork. Out-positioned by bigger cornerbacks. Lacks a true second gear. Has past off-the-field issues that must be checked out.
Overall: Rice really watched his game take off last season after becoming the primary target for SMU, and he was the go-to guy opponents could not stop. He possesses nice length and next-level speed, as well as long arms. Rice comes with tremendous upside, and if he completes his game and his background checks out, he offers potential as a second wideout.