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Chiefs Rookie On Pace For Historic Season

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice is on pace to shatter a rookie record as the lone bright spot on the team depth chart.
Rashee Rice

The Kansas City Chiefs wide receivers have largely left a lot to be desired this season, but Rashee Rice has been a notable exception to the rule. The rookie second-round pick has quickly established himself as the second-best option in this high-powered passing attack and is only getting better as the season progresses. Last week, Rice recorded a team-high nine receptions for 91 yards and a score against a good New England Patriots defense that knew he was going to be the focal point of the offense. This performance helped bring his PFF grade up to 85.0, good for the 15th-best mark among 124 eligible receivers. Advanced metrics paint a similar story, as Rice’s 2.46 yards per route ranks 11th in the league.

Obviously, catching passes from Patrick Mahomes can make it easier for wide receivers to boost their raw numbers. However, as evidenced by Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney, opportunity alone will not make a player great. Rice is in the midst of a great rookie campaign and he’s on pace to join some elite company. Entering Week 16, Rice has hauled in an impressive 68 of his 84 targets, giving him the highest catch rate of any rookie receiver since at least 1992, according to Pro Football Reference.

Chiefs’ Rashee Rice Closing In On Unprecedented Territory

The Historical Comps

Needless to say, Rashee Rice finds himself in pretty good company. While injuries have slowed him down in recent seasons, there was a time when Michael Thomas was featured among the best wide receivers in the game. From 2018 to 2019, Thomas recorded a staggering 274 receptions for 3,130 yards and 18 touchdowns on 332 targets. While most of those came from a late-career Drew Brees, Thomas also managed to maintain his pace when Teddy Bridgewater filled in during the 2019 season. These consecutive heroic performances earned Thomas First-Team All-Pro honors and the Offensive Player of the Year title in 2019. If Rice can turn into someone like peak Thomas, the Chiefs should be well-equipped to handle the end of the Travis Kelce era.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, meanwhile, is currently one of the most reliable slot receivers in the game. After a 90-catch rookie season, the former fourth-round pick proved he wasn’t a one-year wonder when he recorded 106 receptions for 1,161 yards and six touchdowns during his second year in the league. He has once again improved in 2023, hauling in 94 receptions for 1,175 yards and seven touchdowns through 13 games. While he might not be as good as Thomas was in his early career, he’s still a great weapon and the Chiefs would be thrilled if Rice turns into a player of his caliber.

Even Jamison Crowder had some solid seasons, although he never came close to being as valuable as Thomas and St. Brown. The good news is that, based on their first years in the league, Rashee Rice is closer to Thomas and St. Brown than Crowder. As a rookie, Jamison Crowder recorded “just” 59 receptions for 604 yards and two touchdowns. Rice has already eclipsed those marks with 68 receptions for 754 yards and seven touchdowns, and he still has three games left in the regular season. As things currently stand, Rice is on pace for 83 receptions for 916 yards and eight touchdowns, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he beats that projection, as he’s only gotten better as the season continued.

How Rashee Rice Can Save the Chiefs Season

Ultimately, the Chiefs are going to need Rashee Rice to start playing like Michael Thomas or Amon-Ra St. Brown if they want to become the first team to win consecutive championships since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots. While Travis Kelce is still great, he’s not playing up to his usual standard, and nobody else can help. Kadarius Toney is actively sabotaging the team, and the mistake-prone Skyy Moore is currently on the injured reserve. Outside of Rice, the only other notable receivers on the roster are Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson.

Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid are talented enough to overcome gaps on the roster, but this team needs more firepower if they want to keep up with the elite AFC teams. Rashee Rice could potentially provide that spark, and he could end up being the most important non-quarterback on this team down the stretch.

Main Photo: David Butler II – USA Today Sports


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