With Santonio Holmes heading back to the New York Jets, the most intriguing receiver on the free-agent market is Minnesota Vikings wideout Sidney Rice. When Brett Favre signed with the Vikings in 2009, he found that Rice was an ideal target for the offense run by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Rice became one of the NFL's best receivers that season, but things took a downturn in 2010.
Favre got hurt and lost his effectiveness, and Rice suffered a hip injury that limited his time on the field. Early Wednesday, reports out of Minnesota indicate that the Seattle Seahawks (Bevell's new team, where he's already been reunited with backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson) are looking hard at Rice to be their No. 1 receiver — pending a physical — and the Vikings may be outbid.
What would a healthy Rice bring to the Seahawks, or any other NFL team? Here's the tale of the tape.
Drafted: Second round, 44th overall, 2007 NFL draft [Minnesota Vikings]
Career Stats: 146 catches in 247 targets for 2,129 yards, 14.6 yards per catch, 18 touchdowns
2010 Stats: 17 catches in 42 targets for 280 yards, 16.5 yards per catch, 2 touchdowns
Release: Quick off the line -- can get past slower corners in off coverage, but he's more inclined to use routes to beat intermediate coverage. Very quick in his cuts either inside or outside, and he can stutter-step well at the line to gain advantage.
Hands: Great hands-catcher, especially in traffic — he's able to high-point in double coverage, adjust his body to catch errant throws, and beat physical coverage for the ball.
Route running: Runs tight, compact, short-to-intermediate routes in a way that makes him an ideal receiver for a West Coast offense. Works great slants, outs, comebacks and other zone-busters to perfection. Because of his route consistency, he's able to develop a rapport with quarterbacks he hasn't often worked with. Sits in zone very well and forces enemy defensive backs to constantly adjust to his routes.
After the Catch: Physical receiver who will fight for extra yardage even as he's being tackled. Will break arm tackles and head quickly downfield; it's a must to wrap him up downfield. Not a big-body guy per se, but is very willing to knock heads and extend his body near the first-down marker and in the red zone.
Blocking: Rice lines up wide most of the time, so he's not generally asked to be an inline blocker. His job is to keep coverage deep and take defenders away on running plays. When he does block downfield on longer running plays, he's more pesky than powerful — he doesn't always hit his target straight on and he'll whiff outright at times. Has the athleticism to be a better blocker in a different system if need be.
Conclusion: The hip injury that cut Rice's 2010 season short left him with an incomplete on-field resume. However, watching tape of him in 2009, when he was perhaps the league's most efficient receiver, leaves tantalizing potential on the table. At his best, Rice presents a skill set not far off from what Larry Fitzgerald offers a team — he's a legitimate No. 1 receiver in any system, and his lack of elite top-end speed is more than mitigated by the ways in which he dominates coverage and forces coverage breakdowns. Sidney Rice will make a lot of money in free agency, and if he's healthy, he'll be worth the high price.