The three-star recruit from Madison, Alabama wanted to be a Bulldog and chose Georgia over offers from the likes of LSU and Auburn. Montavian, which is his real first name, stood out to coaches early and appeared in all 14 games as a true freshman, behind stars such as Roquan Smith (Bears). While missing five games as a sophomore, he was still third in tackling for the Bulldogs; Rice started five games in 2018. His breakout season came as a junior in 2019, where he started all 14 games for Kirby Smart’s feared defense, while leading the team with 89 tackles. He would be Georgia’s weekly captain multiple times that year but Rice would decide to come back for his senior season. He was highly touted entering the season and was one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, honoring the best linebacker in the nation. Rice would cap off his career with an invitation to the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Moving more like a safety than a linebacker when in space, Rice is one of the most gifted zone cover backers you will find in college football. He is very light on his feet and changes direction effortlessly. At Georgia, he was asked to turn and run with tight ends and even slot receivers on a frequent basis, usually holding up valiantly. His transitions are smooth, as he is twitched up and always on balance when changing directions. Rice has the speed and burst to cover ground once he opens up. Thanks to his athleticism, his range is great. Getting sideline-to-sideline is not an issue for him. A run and chase linebacker, he is best when kept clean and most comfortable defending runs outside the tackle box. Rice is a terrific open-field tackler who can adjust his angle easily due to his fluidity. Add in his consistency when wrapping up ball carriers and he can get the job done against college football's most dangerous weapons. We’ve established that he can run and cover but Rice can also blitz. His speed puts stress on blockers; if he gets home to deliver a hit, that passer will be sure to feel it on Monday morning. When having to take on blocks, Rice struggles. He is best at initiating contact but even lacks some desired physicality in this area. Not looking to stack and shed but when trying to stay clean, he can find himself out of gaps and getting punished by pulling blockers. In 2019, Rice had a really difficult time processing with his eyes all over the place and was often in bad positions because of it. While his discipline has gotten better and more consistent this season, it is still a work in process for Rice. A successful player in zone coverage, Rice can struggle to match up with elusive backs coming out of the backfield. With the NFL moving further away from the thumper at the second level, Rice has the makings of the modern-day linebacker that teams desire. Assuming his eyes can improve further, he should find himself as a starter early on in his career. Defenses that ask a lot of their linebackers in coverage will appreciate Rice’s range and zone instincts, as well as his ability to transition and make plays behind him. He would make a really good running mate alongside a linebacker that is more comfortable defending the run between the tackles. Allowing Rice to focus on coverage responsibilities.
A true sideline-to-sideline linebacker, Rice (32) can get lateral, as shown on this play against Alabama, where he helps to tackle Najee Harris:
Rice is best when staying clean and chasing ball-carriers at the second level. Against Florida, he was able to do just that:
In the open field he was able to tackle one of the most dynamic players with the ball in hands, Kadarius Toney:
From one dynamic receiver to another. In the Alabama game, Rice was tasked to run vertically with Jaylen Waddle and while giving up the catch he held up admirably. Not many linebackers can transition, let alone run like that:
Thanks to Rice’s coverage on Alabama’s tight end in this situation, Mac Jones is forced to dump the ball off short:
This play against Florida shows some off his issues taking on blocks as #76 is able to kick him out of his gap with ease:
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