Rashee Rice stood in front of his locker Saturday, same stature and routine as one week earlier, but with a much different three hours comprising his immediate past.
Six days ago, we saw all of the intrigue.
The encore? All of the concern.
Rice, a second-round rookie wide receiver, dropped three passes in the first half of the Chiefs’ 33-32 win against the Browns at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium — their final tuneup before opening the regular season here on Sept. 7.
Rice is a 6-foot-1, 204-pound symbol of the fickle nature of these preseason games — and given that he’s a rookie who’s not yet played in a real one, these things tend to draw a lot of eyes.
A good thing last week. Not so much this day.
“I would say,” he replied, before a lengthy pause, “that I’ve got a lot of room for improvement.”
Step back for a moment and consider that if Rice had been one of the handful of Chiefs who skipped the preseason finale, he’d be starting his NFL career on a high. And the outside projections for his entire season might look a lot different. But when he walks onto the field for NFL’s opening night in less than two weeks, he will instead be on the heels of a game he’d probably like to forget.
So let’s talk about it. How concerned should the Chiefs be?
This is probably where you’d like for me to inform you the drops Saturday are an aberration — that Rice’s past suggests he’s just shaking some first-time-in-the-pros nerves.
Not exactly. Rice had a 7.8% drop rate in college, which, for context, would have ranked among the highest 10 in the NFL last season. He had 24 drops in 44 career college games at SMU. He does this. It is part of the package. And he’s even identified why it’s part of the package.
“I’m known for running after the catch — yards after the catch — so I’ve just gotta figure out a way for me to fix trying to take off before I have the ball in my hands,” he said.
There’s another question to ask, though: How much does it matter?
That’s not meant to sound flip. One of the three drops Saturday, all by his lonesome, probably cost the Chiefs a touchdown. And, yes, the most important part of a wide receiver’s job is the most simply stated: catch the football. As I just mentioned, it’s perhaps Rice’s weakness in comparison to his peers. It was mentioned on just about all of his draft profiles.
But that’s about the extent of the conclusion: He sometimes drops the football. And I’ll offer some examples.
There are seven NFL players who have had drop rates of 6.5% or higher in each of the last two seasons. Their names: Ja’Marr Chase, A.J. Brown, Jaylen Waddle, Christian Kirk, Robert Woods, Gabe Davis and Russell Gage.
It’s probably appropriate to stop and throw in a disclaimer that, no, drops are not a good thing. But they are not the best indicator of success. Actually, they’re not much of an indicator of success at all, frustrating as they might be.
It’s like paying a hitter with an average that’s 30 points higher, while letting the guy with the superior slugging percentage walk out the door.
It does matter. But it tells a small part of the story.
That guy who dominated the Arizona Cardinals a week ago is still the guy standing here, still every bit as capable as he was that day. No, we don’t know to what extent Rice will produce in his rookie season. But we did not learn any more about that ability than we knew a day earlier. We just were reminded that it will come with some mistakes along the way.
Remember two years ago, when Chase dropped so many passes in the preseason that some wondered if the Bengals had stretched in drafting him fifth overall? Chase still drops the football, you know. A lot. He just does so much good stuff that we don’t talk about it.
It’s not dismissive of the problem. It’s putting it into its proper context.
There’s a reason why Andy Reid so frequently calls the number of a player who’s just made a mistake. Nothing in their ability to make the play changed.
Reid did that Saturday, by the way. First play of the second half, a designed quick throw to Rice. Caught that one, at least.
I’m warning ahead of time: I’ll be surprised if the drops don’t emerge during the regular season, and probably early.
Up to Rice to do enough elsewhere to keep us from focusing on them.