July is the height of optimism for fan bases across the NFL. In the coming week, training camps will open across the league and teams will begin their final preparations for the regular season. The last month of the offseason is always fertile ground for narratives surrounding rookies and undrafted players. Expectations are often sky high. It’s an integral part of anticipating a new NFL season.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being confident that a rookie player will make an immediate contribution to their selected teams. However, it seems to be a curious thing for Chiefs Kingdom regarding wide receivers. At this time last year, there was a segment of the Kingdom that believed that Skyy Moore, the 54th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, could have a shot for Offensive Rookie of the Year. (I have the receipts). Although I think it’s a shot filtered through rose-colored glasses, some Chiefs fans actually have high expectations for rookie receivers in Kansas City.
Reid’s tenure in Kansas City may provide some insight into the likelihood of a receiver making an early contribution to their offense. We all know the story by now. Incoming prospects at the wide receiver position are asked to learn the roles and responsibilities of each receiver position. That’s a drudgery for a player still trying to adjust to the speed and culture of the NFL game. It’s such a big question that it can be argued that it makes being an early adapter practically impossible in the first year. I fully understand why Reid demands such extensive knowledge. There are precious few things that 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 Titansthere is a theoretical opportunity for Kansas City 2023 second-round pick Rashee Rice. There are currently only three veteran players on the Chiefs’ depth chart, but Kadarius Toney has proven to be an injury problem and the jury is still out on Skyy Moore. Of the remaining options, Márquez Valdés-Scantling, Richie James and Justin Watson, none of them have recorded 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 be possible?
Just last season, Moore played 29% of the offensive snaps. In the end, that’s more or less what I expect from Rice in his debut season. For him to control more of the snaps, there would almost have to be a series of injuries in that reception 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 at Kansas City. To put that in perspective, only three Chiefs receivers played a higher 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 that the odds are high.
Rice may be in the best position of any other rookie Chiefs receiver 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 hurdles to his playing time, even if everything else bounces Rice’s way.
Make no mistake, I am not endorsing Rice. I’d love nothing more than for him to be one of the best receivers in this rookie class. I’m just not one to bet 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 their first year, so maybe the Chiefs will come along?