Overreaction #2: Rashee Rice is JuJu Smith-Schuster, only better
I agree with Adam Best here, but let's look at a more recent example, shall we? Chiefs fans may or may not remember Sammy Watkins' tenure in Kansas City, but more will remember JuJu Smith-Schuster's in 2022.
Smith-Schuster, despite being banged up in Pittsburgh, had a clear role in the Chiefs system last season. Whether he lined up out wide or in the slot, Smith-Schuster made his living in the middle of the field. He saw 55% of his targets come between the numbers, 36.7% of them come between the numbers, and no deeper than five yards downfield.
When Smith-Schuster left in free agency, I was hard-pressed to think of an internal replacement for him. That game does not suit players like Kadarius Toney or Skyy Moore, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling serves Kansas City best as a vertical threat. It turns out that Kansas City's JSS replacement was not on the team until this spring. He was Rashee Rice, a rookie wideout in Andy Reid's scheme.
Chiefs fans validly doubt any rookie wide receiver in Reid's offensive scheme. The two go together like the Denver Broncos and winning. It just does not work. But, through three games, Rice is different. He set career highs with seven targets, five receptions, and 59 yards against the Bears. The Chiefs targeting him repetitively was a pleasant surprise, and he worked well in the red zone too.
Sunday marked the first time Rice played in more than 50% of the Chiefs' offensive snaps. His 39 snaps trailed only Valdes-Scantling's 41 and Moore's 50 among wide receivers. All of Rice's numbers are trending in the right direction in Kansas City. He is carving out this nice role and filling Smith-Schuster's role nicely. But there are signs that he is doing even better.
2022 Smith-Schuster's and 2023 Rice's numbers are eerily similar in the short game down the middle. Both have an identical 5 yards after contact per reception and a 4.7-yard average depth of target. But Rice seems to be getting more focused in the middle. 50% of Rice's targets are in that range, and his 3.58 yards per route run vastly outpaces Juju's 2.29 from last season.
Rice is not a perfect player by any means. He is a rookie, after all. But I am encouraged by his catching onto the offense quickly and the Chiefs rewarding him as such. FantasyPros' Dan Tursky said Rice "easily looks like the most explosive and technical wide receiver for Kansas City." It is hard to disagree with that through three games.