One of the Kansas City Chiefs’ most pressing needs heading into this offseason was bringing in help for their receiving corps. They didn’t actively look to fill that need in the free agent market after letting 2022 lead receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster walk, but in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft, they finally did.
The Chiefs traded up to the 55th overall pick to bring in SMU wide receiver Rashee Rice, immediately adding more size to a receivers room that had been lacking in that department. After Smith-Schuster’s departure, Kansas City was projected to enter the 2023 season with just one receiver—Marquez Valdes-Scantling—in the starting trio over six feet tall. The 5-foot-9 Skyy Moore and 6-foot Kadarius Toney round out the group.
Obviously, any receiver would be set up for success with a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes throwing to him, but it will be very interesting to see how the Chiefs employ their receivers in 2023. Moore was on the field for just 29% of the team’s offensive snaps in his rookie season despite playing in 16 games, and Toney was primarily a gadget player for them in both the regular season and playoffs. Sure, the latter scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl, but he played just six offensive snaps in the whole game—a measly 11%.
How the Chiefs employed Moore and Toney compared to Valdes-Scantling and Smith-Schuster might give some insight into how they plan on using Rice during his rookie season.
Moore didn’t see many snaps or targets during his rookie year as a slot receiver that primarily caught short-to-intermediate passes rather than stretching the field much. Given that usage and yards-after-catch production that’s lacking compared to tight end Travis Kelce, who also worked the middle of the field, it’s not surprising he saw so few targets.
Toney, meanwhile, obviously didn’t join the team until the middle of the season when he came over in a trade from the Giants. When he did, the 2021 first-rounder started taking away some of the same targets Moore took: short passes that got the ball in his hands to let him create. Compared to the rookie, Toney was far more shifty with a better ability to run after the catch, but the Chiefs still almost exclusively used him in that gadget role.
So given the data points we have from the 2022 season, the Chiefs don’t seem to be comfortable with Toney or Moore starting and taking a lion’s share of the snaps as outside receivers. That’s where Rice comes in. He’s a bigger body to pair with Valdes-Scantling on the outside, has the ball skills to win downfield, and can make defenders miss after the catch to tack on extra yards. When asked, the SMU product also has the ability to win from the slot, providing some extra versatility to the Chiefs’ receiving corps.
After excelling in college catching passes from Tanner Mordecai, Rice only will look even better with Mahomes as his quarterback. That said, he’ll need to work on generating separation more consistently, especially as he faces NFL competition that might test him in press-man coverage more often than what he faced in the AAC.
If Rice can add early (and easy) separation as well as a more complex route tree to his arsenal, he can be the Chiefs’ new No. 1 wide receiver as early as the end of the 2023 season. Even if he’s not, he should get plenty of opportunities in the form of extra snaps and targets compared to some of his fellow young receivers.
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