2021 NFL Draft Profile: Hawaii WR Rico Bussey
After a quiet year on the islands, will a surprising pro day be enough to propel Rico Bussey into the NFL Draft?
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Rico Bussey signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent.
After playing a key role in North Texas’s late-2010s renaissance, wide receiver Rico Bussey spent 2020 on the islands with the Hawaii Warriors and, at least by the stat sheet, did not have the kind of production that Warriors fans had come to expect of their pass catchers in recent years.
College production is a reasonable indicator of success in the NFL ranks, of course, but it isn’t everything. For instance, Hawaii went from throwing the ball 61.5% of the time in 2019 to just 51.5% last fall, which does a lot to explain why Bussey finished his brief stint in the Mountain West with just 274 yards and one touchdown on 28 receptions. And while participating in San Jose State’s pro day back in March, Bussey went off and turned some heads, reminding everyone of the athlete who racked up 115 catches, 1,694 yards and 19 touchdowns with the Mean Green in 2017 and 2018.
In a deep wide receiver class, however, will the NFL find room for Rico Bussey’s athleticism?
Draft analysts have tended to coalesce around a handful of descriptors when it comes to highlighting Bussey’s assets: “dynamic”, “explosive”, “speed” and their synonyms come up again and again. Though the scouting report predates the 2020 season, Sháona Renczkowski of Expand the Box Score noted that Bussey has a “quick release off the line of scrimmage”, an assessment with which NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein agrees, pointing to “good wiggle and burst” that enables Bussey to win right away.
Renczkowski, Zierlein and The Athletic’s Dane Brugler all count footwork among one of Bussey’s biggest assets, as well, which manifests in his ability to get vertical — which he did more at North Texas than with Hawaii — and use his catch radius to make even the toughest coverages beatable.
The biggest potential hindrance for Bussey is whether NFL teams believe he can rediscover all of the explosiveness he had before tearing his ACL early in the 2019 season. Both Zierlein and Brugler voiced concerns that, despite of the positive adjectives mentioned above, he may have lost a step in his time with Hawaii.
Despite possessing some of the biggest hands of any receiver in this year’s draft class, drops have been a persistent problem for some time, at a rate of 13% over the last few seasons. To that effect, Drae Harris of The Draft Network wrote that Bussey “doesn’t appear to be a natural hands-catcher” while Zierlein points to slow hands on quick-developing routes as a wrinkle that will need to get ironed out at the next level.
Improving his handiwork, if you will, could also be an area of focus for the NFL team that selects him because Bussey also received mixed reviews from draft analysts for his run-blocking abilities, as well. He had more opportunity to this with the Warriors in 2020, but turning the burst and physicality into greater consistency will better enable him to stick in the pros.
Despite the down year in 2020, it may not be crazy to suggest that, relative to the Mountain West’s other wide receiver prospects, Rico Bussey possesses the greatest upside in the group. His potential path to the NFL, his measurables and his injury history have a surprising amount in common, in my opinion, with the narrative that surrounded Stefon Diggs before the Minnesota Vikings scooped him up in the fifth round back in 2015.
In all, if Rico Bussey makes it to undrafted free agency, I think he’d be a very hot commodity. I predict it’s more likely, however, that someone will take a flyer on his potential in the seventh round.