CFB Player in Focus: Rice Offers A Glimmer Of Hope In A Rough Season For Colorado
Expectation tends to weigh heaviest on young players with NFL bloodlines. That certainly will have been the case for Brenden Rice. Yet, he hasn’t shirked away from pressure. Not only has Jerry Rice’s son followed him into American Football, but he has done so at the same position as his father.
Recruitment And Redshirting
A 3-star prospect out of Chandler, Arizona, Brenden Rice wasn’t heavily recruited by the big boys but chose the spectacular Colorado scenery over Michigan, whose offensive coordinator Josh Gattis pursued him intently. Since then, the departure of head coach Mel Tucker was a blow for the Buffaloes who have struggled to compete in the Pac-12 this year.
However, there are green shoots of recovery showing and Rice could be considered one of those. His freshman year was effectively a redshirt. With only six receptions the highlights were a couple of exclamation mark plays in the season finale against Utah. An 81-yard punt return touchdown before half time and a 61 yard TD on a wide receiver screen early in the third:
Difficult 2021 Punctuated With Big Plays
So far in 2021, Rice has led the team in receiving yards and continues to be a dynamic special teams player. The biggest change for the receiving group was the transfer out of starting QB Sam Noyer to Oregon State, and the ensuing battle at the position.
JT Shrout arrived from Tennessee hoping to put his days of being a backup behind him and battled throughout camp with second year Brendon Lewis. After a serious injury to Shrout effectively ruled him out of the season, Lewis took the reins and it’s fair to say there has been teething problems.
Rice’s stats follow the general theme of the team’s results. When the offense clicks, Rice is front and centre. Against an ailing Arizona Wildcats side, he went over 100 receiving yards, but it was his performance against Oregon that gave us a glimpse of his potential.
The Ducks boast a strong secondary, including top names like Verone McKinley and Mykael Wright, but they struggled to contain Rice, who averaged over 20 yards per catch.
Big Play Monster
So what exactly does Brenden Rice bring to the table? Interestingly, his measurements are pretty similar to father Jerry. He has a long, lean 6’3, 205lbs frame and his calling card is his big play ability.
The Buffaloes look to get him into space whenever possible. That includes end-arounds and screens. Despite his size, Rice displays a great change of direction and tackle breaking ability. Once he has open grass his long limbs help him to accelerate with ease and make him difficult to track down.
That’s not to say Rice is simply a gadget player. Colorado hasn’t had elite quarterback play but when he does get a chance to catch the ball downfield his frame allows him to high point the ball and have success in contested grabs.
His elusiveness is key to his success as a kick and punt returner. This year, he has returned 14 kickoffs for 400+ yards at an average of 28.6 yards. Special teams ability is always well regarded in NFL circles.
The Future's Bright For The Buffaloes Chief Playmaker
The Buffs have a difficult end to the season, starting on Saturday against UCLA. After that, keep a close eye on Rice when Colorado face Washington. Seeing him against the likes of Kyler Gordon and Trent McDuffie will give us a strong steer on his future potential.
If Brendon Lewis can continue to improve at QB then both he and Rice could become a terrific partnership. Whether it is enough for Rice to become a high draft pick is yet to be decided, but the freshman pass catcher certainly appears to be the star in Colorado’s receiving room for now.
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com.