April 24, 2024

Rashee Rice, a rookie wide receiver, once again validated his selection by the Kansas City Chiefs in their Wild Card victory over the Miami Dolphins. The 55th overall choice in last year’s NFL Draft continues to produce surplus value in his first season, particularly as he appears to become stronger during the season.

Rice’s playoff debut demonstrated yet another aspect of his impact.

Despite the harsh cold, the Chiefs proceeded with a pass-heavy offense against Miami. Rice tied his season high with 12 targets, connecting on eight of them for 130 yards and a touchdown. The SMU graduate led all Kansas City pass catchers on the night, prompting quarterback Patrick Mahomes to conclude that the much-feared ‘rookie wall’ hasn’t gotten in Rice’s way.

On this week’s New Heights podcast with his brother Jason, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce praised Rice’s recent performance. Drawing on his own rookie season over a decade ago, Kelce mentioned how difficult it is to learn and perform at the same time.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence, man, and making some huge plays for us,” he said. “Early on, you just want to see a man make steps and have confidence in playing quickly, so don’t throw too much at him. As a rookie, I recall feeling like I was learning a new language, right? On top of that, I needed to be confident in what I saw in the defense across from me. You get a lot of stuff thrown at you, and that’s when the rookie wall may hit you hard. For the first ten weeks of the season, everything appears to be out of order.

 

Kansas City Chiefs receiver Rashee Rice has made an impression on Patrick  Mahomes

 

“In his first regular season, Rice was easily the Chiefs’ most productive wide receiver.” Rice trailed only the future Hall of Fame tight end in targets, receptions, and yards, but led the offense in touchdowns and yards per target. He finished behind two All-Pro players, CeeDee Lamb of the Dallas Cowboys and Amon-Ra St. Brown of the Detroit Lions, in yards after the catch across the league.

Rice has consistently performed well this season, but his job has grown in importance over time. A breakout performance in Week 12 versus the Las Vegas Raiders was a true turning point. Rice recorded double-digit targets for the first time in that game, as well as 100 or more receiving yards. From Weeks 12 to 17, he averaged seven receptions and 86 yards per game. According to Kelce, the increase in numbers is the result of strong coaching and Rice’s full awareness of where and when to be there.

“I think Coach (Andy) Reid and Coach (Matt) Nagy and the offensive staff have done a great job of just kind of, like, slowly building on the things we have in the offense for him,” Kelly said. “And on top of that, he’s done an excellent job of simply understanding what the guys are teaching, how Coach likes things run, and how Pat (Mahomes) feels comfortable with things being run.” He’s just coming into his own right now, man. It’s fun to play with him while he’s doing this s—, man.”

The troubling thing for Kansas City is that Rice still has a lot of room to develop coming forward. For example, opponents continue to avoid using press-man coverage against him. There is untapped potential — and possibly a looming adjustment — in that regard. His sense of zone is already good, but it’s still developing. He can do a better job of generating opportunities to become a more effective ball winner and vertical threat. One can tell the Chiefs are attempting to help him grow in new ways. If this is what they receive for the rest of the playoffs, they’ll be ecstatic. Rice stole the stage on Saturday, with Kelce once more noting the remarkable rookie.

 

 

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