Don't count on big rookie campaign from Chiefs receiver Rice

Hope springs eternal for rookie wide receivers in Andy Reid offenses, but history demonstrates why we should probably temper expectations.
Kansas City Chiefs Offseason Workout
Kansas City Chiefs Offseason Workout / Kyle Rivas/GettyImages

July is the height of optimism for fan bases across the NFL. In the next week, training camps will open across the league and teams will begin their final preparations for the regular season. The final month of the offseason is always fertile ground for narratives surrounding rookies and undrafted players. Expectations are typically through the roof. It's part and parcel of anticipating a new NFL season.

There's nothing inherently wrong with having confidence that a rookie player will make an immediate contributing to their drafted teams. Though, it does appear to be a curious thing for Chiefs Kingdom with respect to wide receivers. This time last year, there was a segment of the Kingdom that believed Skyy Moore—the 54th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft—might have a reasonable shot at Offensive Rookie of the Year. (I have the receipts.) As much I think that's a take filtered through rose-colored glasses, some Chiefs fans genuinely have high expectations for rookie receivers in Kansas City.

Reid's tenure in Kansas City may provide some insights into how likely it is for a receiver to make an early contribution in his offense. We all know the story by now. Incoming prospects, at the wide receiver position, are asked to learn the roles and responsibilities of every receiver position. That's a heavy lift for a player still trying to adapt to the speed and culture of the NFL game. It's such a big ask that one can argue that it makes being an early adapter virtually impossible in Year One. I completely understand why Reid demands such an expansive knowledge. There are a precious few things this coaching staff values above versatility.

With the departures of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman from the roster and the signing of free agent hopeful DeAndre Hopkins with the Tennessee Titans, there's a theoretical opportunity for Kansas City's 2023 second-round draft pick Rashee Rice. There are presently only three veteran players on the Chiefs' depth chart but Kadarius Toney has proven an injury concern and the jury's still out on Skyy Moore. Of the remaining options — Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Richie James, and Justin Watson — none of them has ever posted 700 receiving yards in a single season. The lane appears to be wide open, but will Rice see enough of the field for that to even be possible?

Just last season, Moore played 29% of the offensive snaps. All things considered, that's roughly what I expect for Rice in his debut season. For him to command a larger share of the snaps, there'd almost have to be a rash of injuries in that receiver room. That's not an indictment of his talent or potential; it's just a fair prediction based on Reid's time as head coach in Kansas City. To put that into perspective, only three Chiefs receivers played a larger percentage of offensive snaps than Moore did in 2022 (Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, and Chris Conley). The other five rookie receivers played an average of less than 3% of the offensive snaps in the year they were drafted. Suffice it to say, the odds are long.

Rice may be in the best position of other rookie Chiefs receivers in recent memory. There is less certainty at the top of the depth chart. Toney hasn't proven healthy during his short NFL career and only time will tell if Moore will take another significant step forward in 2023. That said, the presence of James and Watson are likely to be the obstacles to his playing time even if everything else bounces Rice's way.

Make no mistake, I'm not rooting against Rice. I'd love nothing more than for him to be one of the premier receivers in this rookie class. I'm just not a fan of betting against the well-documented history of an old dog like Andrew Walter Reid. Since 2013, Hardman and Hill are the only rookie receivers to make a significant impact in Year One so maybe the Chiefs are due?