Rashee Rice, WR, SMU | NFL Draft Scouting Report

He’s one of the most explosive risers at wide receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. But where does Rashee Rice fit in the current class with his scouting report? And with astronomical production like his, just how high can he rise? That’s what we’ll look to answer here.

Rashee Rice NFL draft profile

No one’s giving SMU the “WRU” crown, but you can’t deny the talent the team has produced over the years. From accomplished, prestigious veterans like Emmanuel Sanders, to up-and-coming catalysts like 49ers third-round pick Danny Gray, the Mustangs are one of the nation’s most underrated WR factories. And their best product yet might be hitting the shelves.

Rice was brought up as part of a venerable trio that included Gray and Reggie Roberson Jr. He was only a three-star recruit in 2019, but Rice came along quickly once he joined the Mustangs. He caught 25 passes for 403 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman, then emerged as a legitimate playmaker in 2020, with 48 catches for 683 yards and five touchdowns.

2021 saw another uptick in production for Rice, who amassed 64 catches for 670 yards and nine scores alongside Gray. But once Gray departed in the 2022 NFL Draft, Rice was freed up to become the premier weapon in SMU’s attack. And that’s exactly what he’s done. In just three games to start the year, Rice has 28 catches for 491 yards and three scores. And he’s just gearing up.

  • Position: Wide Receiver
  • School: SMU
  • Current Year: Senior
  • Height/Weight: 6’2″, 203 pounds

Rashee Rice scouting report

In what is becoming a more wide-open WR class, just how far does Rice stand to rise with a dominant 2022 campaign? To get our answer, let’s take a closer look at the traits.

Rice’s positives

At 6’2″, 203 pounds, Rice has a dense, compact frame with excellent proportional length. With his frame density and reach, combined with his overall athleticism, he can be a very valuable multi-phase threat.

Rice is an explosive athlete who accelerates incredibly quickly in open space. He’s shown to use curvilinear acceleration to efficiently gain speed on rounded breaks, and he also has the necessary long-track explosiveness to overtake and stack DBs in off-man coverage.

When he attacks upfield, Rice is a long-strider with dangerous vertical speed. There’s a definite speed element to Rice’s game, both with his long speed and quick acceleration. But the SMU WR is also a very inspiring lateral athlete. Rice has a heightened degree of twitch and foot speed at the line, which he can use to generate displacement against defenders.

He’s an amped-up short-area athlete who quickly chops his feet and redistributes his weight heading upfield. Similarly, Rice is extremely fleet-footed and twitchy in space, with an urgent tempo as a short-area mover.

Rice’s brand of athleticism translates well in multiple phases, but his creative capacity as a run-after-catch threat is especially appealing. He can make defenders miss with brisk jump cuts after the catch, then instantly accelerate forward. Moreover, he can destroy tackling angles with successive cuts and bursts of acceleration.

It’s easy to sell onlookers on Rice’s brand of athleticism, but his best trait is undoubtedly his elite catching instincts. Rice has a tremendous sense of timing and coordination at the catch point. He can effortlessly elevate and contort to guide the ball into his frame. He brings absurd body control and flexibility as a contested-catch artist and can work through contact to make gravity-defying catches. In that vein, Rice has incredible focus and control, even in contested situations, and can convert with defenders inside his frame.

Expanding on Rice’s instincts, the SMU WR is able to use his length to extend beyond his frame and high-point passes with authority. However, he’s not hasty or over-aggressive. Rice has the instincts and patience to hold off on elevating for throws until the last possible second, to avoid drawing opponents to the ball. It helps that he has the vertical athleticism to spring into the air and quickly gain leverage in contested situations. Additionally, Rice tracks the ball extremely well downfield and can guide in passes even when pinched against the sideline.

Rice is a true acrobatic catcher, who makes challenging adjustments look routine. He even draws defensive penalties at the catch point with his intimidating ability. But his instincts provide value even outside of contested situations. Rice very naturally flexes to corral imprecise throws over the middle of the field, and he can make RAC catches in stride. Moreover, Rice can make diving catches and protect the ball from the turf while lunging.

On top of his high-level instincts, Rice is a natural hands catcher with dominating hand strength. He instinctively secures passes away from his frame — often with diamond technique — and with his hand strength, he secures high-difficulty catches through contact and when imbalanced. Rice is a clutch WR who consistently makes crucial chain-moving receptions with threat of contact. In a way, he effortlessly flows through contact at the catch and always plays the ball.

Rashee Rice
Nov 23, 2019; Annapolis, MD, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs wide receiver Rashee Rice (11) runs for a fourth quarter touchdown as Navy Midshipmen defensive end Denzel Polk (52) defends at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Also impressive is Rice’s timing with his hands — not just his focus and consistency. He can quickly reach and snare passes with his hands, then sequentially cradle the ball inside his torso at contact with the ground. Even when elevating and contorting, the SMU WR makes a concerted effort to extend beyond his frame and catch with his hands.

Rice does most of his damage at and after the catch, but he brings definite route-running upside and a degree of immediate utility. Rice has several releases in his arsenal already. He can use a split release with quick footwork to manipulate leverage early in reps. He’s also shown to manipulate tempo on routes out of a slide release, and he has a quick-twitch diamond release as well.

Not only does Rice have a release package, but he can work off of those releases. The SMU WR can quickly press upfield off releases, then cut inside with efficient plant-and-drive technique. To that end, he’s shown to accelerate quickly upfield, then stop suddenly and leave DBs in lurch at stem.

Rice has solid stopping ability and flashes throttle control. He can pinch tight angles at stems and get displacement on DBs, and he can quickly chop his feet and swivel around on comebacks after baiting DBs vertically.

Going further, Rice can press upfield into breaks, then quickly vary his stride lengths and sink his hips on transitions. He doesn’t key in DBs on breaks with early head turns and is often deliberate in uniformly pressing upfield. Additionally, Rice shows good zone awareness. The SMU WR can sneak into DB blindspots, then flip around and decelerate quickly in open seams.

As if his profile wasn’t exciting enough, Rice is also a chippy competitor with an alpha mentality, and he’s physical in multiple phases. He’ll actively use his frame and length to lever and wall off DBs before elevating for passes. He’s able to pry through contact and work his way back to under-thrown passes, and he actively uses single-hand swipes while breaking at stems to compound separation and keep his chest clean. Even with DBs in his hip pocket, Rice uses his length to scrape and swim free before elevating for passes.

After the catch, Rice displays a willingness to lower his shoulder and finish forward, although his style allows him to evade direct contact more often than not. Rice recollects his feet extremely quickly after adjusting for imprecise passes in open space. He effortlessly transitions to RAC mode and does so with quickness and consistency.

With his explosiveness and fluid hips, Rice quickly recalibrates after making catches amidst contact and surges upfield. In short-yardage situations, he’ll actively contort to get ahead of the sticks while making catches amidst contact.

Among other things, Rice can easily shed arm tackles and recollect his feet to move upfield. As a blocker, his combination of length, play strength, and attitude translates very well.

Rice’s areas for improvement

While Rice is very explosive, he doesn’t always show elite initial burst off the line. He sometimes needs a bit of a runway to maximize his acceleration. In a similar vein, Rice doesn’t quite have elite deep speed. He can stack DBs, but he’s not quite a breakaway threat after stacking.

Moving elsewhere, Rice sometimes unnecessarily jumps and swings his legs when corralling high passes. He could be more efficient with his motion, to more quickly transition to the RAC phase. While he’s most often a hands catcher, Rice sometimes resorts to body catching and brings the ball into his frame before securing. Additionally, Rice is prone to occasional drops when faced with contact, and he sometimes clasps and bobbles passes in tight situations.

As a route runner, Rice can stand to further refine his game as well. He sometimes runs vertical routes at what appears to be less than full speed, to which he could also better use his speed to pressure DBs. Rice doesn’t always show elite stopping ability or hip sink on comeback routes and intermediate hitches, and he doesn’t have elite throttle control at this point. Rice sometimes struggles to manipulate his throttle and constrict strides heading into breaks.

Expanding on his route running, Rice sometimes rotates around at breaks, causing erroneous footwork and keying in DBs too early. On tighter transitions, his plant-and-drive technique could be more efficient. And overall, Rice can more consistently utilize and maximize his route-running building blocks. He also has room to expand his route tree.

At times, Rice will attempt to purely outmuscle DBs, sacrificing route tempo and manipulation opportunities, as well as risking penalties. As a RAC threat, his ball security could use improvement. While his frame is dense, he won’t always withstand direct contact or work through solid form tackles. Lastly, Rice can more consistently fulfill his assignments as a run blocker.

Current draft projection for SMU WR Rashee Rice

Sometimes, as we transition from the summer to the in-season evaluation phase, we struggle to relocate prospects from their preconceived round ranges. All this is to say: Rice may be a potential first-round pick that we need to talk about in a similar breath with Kayshon Boutte, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Quentin Johnston, and Jordan Addison. Rice is assuredly a strong Day 2 selection, but if he keeps producing as he’s been, top 32 is not out of the realm of possibility.

Running his traits through the three-level threat framework, Rice passes with flying colors. Especially in the latter two phases — at the catch point and after the catch — Rice is a rare talent. His catching instincts are elite, as he mixes together high-level body control, timing, ball-tracking ability, and hand strength. He’s an alpha with a “my ball” mentality and willing physicality. After the catch, he’s a twitchy, energetic mover with explosiveness upfield, who can shed arm tackles and use successive cuts to manipulate tackling angles.

Creativity and competitive toughness are two of Rice’s strongest qualities, but he has a solid assortment of route-running building blocks, too. His twitch and foot speed naturally flow into his release package, and he’s shown he has enough stopping ability and hip sink to separate independently. Rice will need to keep striving for more consistency there, but the tools are worth investing in.

Bottom line: Rice is an explosive, agile athlete with elite catching instincts and playmaking reach, stifling hand strength, and high-level RAC ability with his frame density and hyperactive style. He brings good speed downfield as well, and he mends it all together with a cold competitive mentality.

Looking at the sum of the parts, Rice is an early-round WR prospect — a safe bet to go top 75 and a potential first-round sleeper if his high level of play persists. He can win on the boundary as an X, or in the slot as a movement Z, and provides a versatile, dynamic playmaking presence with high-impact potential.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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