Should the Chiefs roll the dice with Rashee Rice as their top wide receiver?

With the NFL draft less than 50 days away and free agency about to heat up, the question on every Chiefs' fan's mind has to revolve around the wide receiver room. There are not many true WR1 options across the league, and even though rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice proved himself during the last half of the season was it enough to secure the top spot on the depth chart? Or would it be in Kansas City's best interest to go out and grab a true WR1?

Rashee Rice pointed toward the endzone after securing a first down grab in Super Bowl LVIII, a game where he had six catches on eight targets.
Rashee Rice pointed toward the endzone after securing a first down grab in Super Bowl LVIII, a game where he had six catches on eight targets. / Michael Owens/GettyImages

Last season was a breakout year for Rashee Rice. The rookie out of SMU was selected 55th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, and despite a slow start, he turned on the gas during the last half of the season and even broke some NFL postseason records for a rookie.

While the Chiefs' and their fans should feel extremely optimistic by his 780 receiving yards from Week 11 to the Super Bowl, is it worth the risk to head into the 2024-25 season with him at the WR1 position?

Or—and hear me out on this one—could it be better for the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes to grab a competitor for the top spot and make Rice one of the best WR2 options in the entire NFL?

How Rashee Rice ranks against other WR1s

First off, there are already so few true top-tier wide receivers in the NFL. Many teams work well with two above-average receivers, and even more franchises make do with one above-average pass catcher and a few mediocre ones to spread the field.

Off the top of your head, think about who is a true WR1 and how many teams would keep him at that position if he were traded to them today. Players like Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, A.J. Brown, Davante Adams, Mike Evans, and maybe Cooper Kupp. Those guys seem like undeniable locks to be classified as WR1. Meanwhile, guys like Amon-Ra St. Brown, Brandon Aiyuk, and Ja'Marr Chase are all paired with other great receivers but are still surefire, top-tier receivers who could make the case for WR1 if they were placed on the team alongside the first list.

Think to yourself, where does Rice even rank amongst those receivers? Because, in the regular season, he ranks 32nd in receiving yards (938), T-5th in receiving TDs (seven), T-39th in catch percentage (77.5%) and 53rd in yards per reception (11.9).

I know, I know, he's just a rookie. And I know he didn't get going until after Week 10. But compared to true WR1 talent in the league, his numbers don't even compare.

On the flip side, Rice does excel in plenty of WR1 categories. For instance, Rice ranked third in average separation during the regular season (4.2 yards) which allowed him to gain 8.4 yards after the catch on average (second-highest behind Deebo Samuel-8.9).

The talent is there, and the skill is potent when he's on the field. But, can he be trusted to be the Chiefs' #1 receiving weapon as Travis Kelce ages and players like Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney become more and more unreliable?

If you believe he can be, then I urge you to look at some of his drops this year, which he led the Chiefs in during the regular season (eight). I also urge you to look at the deep ball problems that saw him catch just one of seven (14.2%) for 67 yards on an undesigned play.

Rice ranked in the bottom five of all pass catchers in average targeted air yards (five) just behind players like Rondale Moore and Tanner Hudson. Also, if he wants to be a WR1, he's going to have to at least try and be that deep threat which only occurred on 5.3% of his targets (20+ yards past the LOS).

So now think about it: is Rice a true WR1? Or are fans and social media talent scouts simply crossing their fingers and praying that Mahomes and Rice will just keep it rolling like they did from Week 11 till now?

Who could challenge Rice for the top spot?

It's obvious that people believe the Chiefs could draft another stud at receiver with the 32nd overall pick. Many mock drafts have Brett Veach and Andy Reid collaborating to grab one of two Texas receivers, and a few even have the Chiefs grabbing solid hands like Oregon's Troy Franklin.

But that would simply mean another rookie is going to have to prove their worth, gain Mahomes' trust, and beat out a handful of guys who know the complex, trickery-fueled playbook that Coach Reid is known for. That would take time, a lot of work, and quite a bit of praying.

That's why the Chiefs would have to make one of the biggest splashes in free agency this season, something they've been known to do over the years but rarely in the wide receiver market.

It could all start with Calvin Ridley, a player who has proven he's capable of being a WR1 with 1,000-yard seasons in both Atlanta and his one year in Jacksonville this past year. Ridley is barely 29 years old, still in his prime, and has proven himself capable of handling 130+ targets in a season. Not only that, Ridley ranked third amongst free agent wide receivers in getting open against single-man coverage (38.9%).

Ranked just above him is Chicago's Darnell Mooney with a 42.28% open percentage against Man. Mooney is another possible WR1, but not nearly as proven as someone like Ridley or even Odell Beckham Jr. which begs the question: could he challenge Rice for the top spot?

Mooney, as well as players like Curtis Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, and Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, are all in the same boat. That boat would be a great challenge for Rice, as well as another great target for Mahomes to use as a torch against secondaries next season, but not the obvious answer at WR1.

Many players over the years have shown that competition in the offseason fuels something, bringing them to a new level. That could very well be true with Rice if someone from that boat is brought in through free agency to compete with the SMU receiver for the WR1 spot.

Rice's rookie season was no joke, but could it be a fluke?

Number 4 on the Chiefs and number one in Chiefs' fans' hearts proved himself day in and day out, especially in big games like the Wild Card matchup against Miami. In that game Rice had eight catches on 12 targets (66.7%) for 130 yards, marking a season and career-high for the rookie.

All-in-all, Rice had three 100+-yard games receiving on the season which marks the most in Chiefs history above players like Dwayne Bowe and Sylvester Morris. But, will that translate into more success next year or could Rice fall into that category of players who shined for one season and didn't live up to the bar they set for themselves?

Players like Patrick Jeffers, who had 1,082 yards and 12 TDs in his first year with Carolina, come to mind as he only racked up 481 receiving yards in four years outside his standout season.

Marcus Robinson also stands out, recording 84 receptions for 1,400 yards in his second season with the Bears before never catching more than 55 balls in a season and never topping 740 yards either.

Or even tight end Gary Barnidge from the mid-2010s. Barnidge hauled in nearly 80 catches for over 1,040 yards in 2015 but only averaged 173.6 yards per season in his other seven years.

It does happen, that's all I'm saying. Do I think it's likely to happen with a talented player like Rice? No. Do I think it's even remotely possible with Mahomes slinging him the ball for the forseeable future? Probably not.

But, as we saw during the offseason last year, to ignore the possibility is to bring upon disappointment. Everybody in Chiefs Kingdom believed the receiver room was tough, well-versed and experienced enough to make it one of Mahomes' best years...and we all saw what the regular season looked like outside of Kelce and (eventually) Rice.

No matter what you think about Rice or the Chiefs' receiver room, there has to be a clear WR1 on the depth chart. And until Rice can prove that his rookie season wasn't the best he can give, it wouldn't hurt the Chiefs to poke and prod the free agency pool for a strong competitor to take over the top spot.