NFL Draft

2021 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Hawaii WR Rico Bussey Jr.

From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

#8 Rico Bussey Jr. / WR University of Hawaii – 6’0” 186

The Good

  • Solid size and build
  • Good (deceptive) acceleration and long speed
  • Projects to be a Z receiver (did spend some time working in the slot at the 2021 Hula Bowl though). Solid, savvy route runner.  Good footwork, quick feet.  Fluid hips.  Has some polish overall.  Can work all areas of the field.  Ran a variety of routes over the duration of his collegiate career (some more often than others): go’s, slants, posts, corners, hitches, digs, drags, crossers, outs, some screens, etc.  Has some effective releases in his arsenal: speed, foot fire, hesitation, shimmy, incorporates hand movement and head fakes as well.  Able to sink his hips on a dime in his breaks, smooth cuts.  Was able to use his hands at the line vs. press occasionally, shows physicality.  Smart player.  Good spatial awareness vs. zone, able to find the soft spots
  • Good first step off the line. Good stop and go ability.  Has some twitch and explosion.  Should be able to run slot routes or routes out of the backfield in the NFL as well, if used there (whips, flat routes, angle routes, wheels, etc.).  Decent body control when about to make a catch, tracks the ball well
  • RAC (run after catch) ability. Able to catch passes at or near full speed while accelerating/without losing momentum
  • Shows competitiveness on the field. Competes at the catch point, competes in the run game
  • Solid blocker. Also sells the run-off technique very well

The Bad

  • Could struggle against press-jam corners when on the line. Balance vs. jams, in his routes, and contact balance is iffy at times.  Seems more well suited to be a Z or slot receiver with room off the line to work with
  • Torn ACL in 2019. NFL teams will have more information with access to his medical records.  His collegiate career seemed to be finishing on a decline rather than an incline.  Didn’t produce much in his 2020 season (didn’t see the field for stretches of time), might’ve lost a step due to the 2019 ACL injury (could be healthier a couple years removed from the injury)
  • Slow 3-cone time (7.21 seconds). Balance in his routes/cuts is off at times.  Can work to shift his weight more urgently in his breaks at times
  • Had some drops (concentration drops). Catches with his body on occasion.  Not a consistent 50/50 jump-ball threat
  • Took some plays off as a blocker when not directly involved in the play (sometimes he became involved in the play and missed his assignment as a result). Can also work on his hand placement
  • Could add some weight to his frame

Bio

  • 2020 Stats (8 games at the University of Hawaii): 31 receptions, 274 yards, 1 touchdown
  • North Texas Career Stats (34 games): 128 receptions, 1,941 yards, 21 touchdowns
  • Pro Day numbers (according to RAS): 4.50 40-yard dash (some reports had him in the 4.4 range), 38.5 vert, 10-4 broad, 4.26 short shuttle, 7.21 3-cone, 13 225-lb bench press reps
  • Finished 3rd on the team in receptions and receiving yards in 2020 for Hawaii
  • First Team All-Conference USA selection in 2018 at North Texas
  • Preseason All-Conference selection by Conference USA’s 14 head coaches in 2019 at North Texas
  • Two-star/three-star recruit out of high school

Tape Breakdown

Rico Bussey Jr. from Hawaii is a player that I had been researching, and just recently decided to do a report on, due to his appearance in Alex Kozora’s article; “What The Steelers Look For In Drafting Wide Receivers”.  Bussey Jr. fits the Steelers’ criteria based on historical trends, the only piece he’s missing is a 3-cone time under 7.10 seconds (his was a 7.21).  Bussey Jr. was a teammate of Jaelon Darden at North Texas earlier in his collegiate career, before he transferred to Hawaii.  At North Texas, Bussey Jr. was a valued asset whose statistical production continuously increased from 2016 to 2018.  Bussey Jr.’s NFL draft stock was gaining momentum after his best season in 2018, when he caught 68 passes and turned them into 1,017 yards and 12 touchdowns.  After tearing his ACL early in his 2019 senior season (he only appeared in 3 games), Bussey Jr. redshirted and transferred to the University of Hawaii, in order to become a Rainbow Warrior.  He only had 31 receptions and 274 yards in his lone 2020 redshirt senior season at Hawaii, which has hurt his draft outlook for the 2021 NFL Draft.  However, as Alex Kozora’s noted, Bussey Jr. does check some boxes the Steelers have looked for when evaluating receivers over the years, so let’s get into some clips.

 

This first clip is from Rico Bussey Jr.’s time at North Texas.  This is his 2017 season; North Texas is playing the University of Texas at San Antonio.  There are 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter on this play, North Texas trails by 4.  Bussey Jr. is pressed boundary side, but he instantaneously darts away from the DB and maneuvers his way through a bit of traffic, working his way across the field.  He catches the pass between the hashes, then shows off his RAC ability, accelerating towards the sideline.  By the sideline, he’s able to evade a potential tackler, then he tight-ropes his way into the end zone for a much-needed, clutch touchdown.

 

This next clip is from Rico Bussey Jr.’s 2018 season; North Texas is playing Arkansas.  Bussey Jr. is out wide field side (bottom of the screen), and he finds a small window in the defense to sit down in, right at the front of the end zone.  He tracks the ball into his hands and secures it while anticipating possible hits from the surrounding defenders.  He holds on through contact for six.  Bussey Jr.’s spatial and depth awareness help him when running routes.  He has a good feel for how to get open.

 

This clip is also from Bussey Jr.’s 2018 season.  North Texas against the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  Bussey Jr. (top of the screen, boundary side) uses a foot fire release with some physicality off the line to stagger the DB backwards.  He then bursts inside and secures the pass while accelerating into the middle of the field.  His long speed (another RAC example) is on display as he evades and outruns the defenders in his area, taking the short pass the distance; TD.

 

This clip is from Bussey Jr.’s 2019 season at North Texas.  This is the season that he had cut short, due to a torn ACL.  North Texas vs. Abilene Christian.  Bussey Jr. somehow comes away with an unbelievable contested catch in-between two defenders.  Starting on the numbers boundary side, Bussey Jr. has a free release and takes his time off the line post-snap before slicing up the middle of the field.  His route isn’t shown in the broadcast view, but his deep-ball tracking skills are on full display.  As the camera pans to him, Bussey Jr. is seen having stacked the two DBs.  He then has to slow up, and he hops to snatch the ball at his kneecaps with one of the DBs draped all over him.  Impressive concentration to come away with the catch for a score.

 

This clip is from North Texas’ 2018 matchup with Florida Atlantic.  Here, Bussey Jr. shows his ability as a blocker.  He’s boundary side and anchors the play-side QB run.  He keeps the DB in place so that the quarterback can scamper into the end zone, untouched by his defender.  Bussey Jr. gets good hand placement to attack and maintain engagement with the DB’s chest region, and he also keeps his feet driving to ensure he isn’t pushed back, thus not allowing the DB to make a play.  It is a fight, but Bussey Jr. stands his ground.

 

This clip is from the 2021 Hula Bowl.  Rico Bussey Jr. was a member of Team Kai (in blue).  In this clip, he’s lined up on the numbers at the top of the screen.  He finds some space in the defense then hauls in the catch before sliding down to protect himself from a potential hit.  Smart placement from the QB (Mississippi State’s K.J. Costello) to make Bussey Jr. go low, avoiding giving him a hospital pass.

 

This clip is from North Texas’ 2018 game against Rice.  Bussey Jr. is on the numbers boundary side.  At the snap, he stems his route inside so that he’ll have room to maneuver.  However, after quickly meeting a defender before reaching the 30-yard line, Bussey Jr. is knocked off balance and falls to the ground.  The QB is looking boundary side but he has nowhere to go with the football.  Bussey Jr.’s agility (not straight-line stop and start) is one of the main areas that appears to hurt him on tape (especially in 2020, possibly due to the torn ACL he suffered in 2019).  His balance seemed spotty at times, his change of direction skills were hit or miss, and he also didn’t have a great 3-cone time at his Pro Day.

 

This clip is from Bussey Jr.’s 2020 season at Hawaii vs Boise State. Bussey Jr. (out wide field side, bottom of the screen) instantly turns inside after the snap.  He’s wide open with no one in his general area, but the pass squeezes right through his hands.  Drops were an issue for Bussey Jr. in his collegiate career, especially concentration drops.  He will have to work on that if he’s added to an NFL roster.  As I have said in some of my other reports on wide receivers, can’t have costly drops at the WR position (or any position).  Steelers fans saw an example of this with Diontae Johnson in 2020.  On a Mike Tomlin run team, drops may lead a player to the bench, and that’s even for a guy with Johnson’s talent.  A fringe draft selection may not be so fortunate.  Donte Moncrief a few years back is another prime example.  After he had some drops (costly ones too) early in the 2019 season, he was dropped himself.  The Steelers cut him mid-season.

Rico Bussey Jr.’s collegiate career path was a bit of a rollercoaster.  He showed promise at North Texas early on, but after suffering a torn ACL early in his 2019 senior season, taking a redshirt year, and transferring to Hawaii for the 2020 season, his career finished on more of a downslope than he likely would have hoped for.  However, his Pro Day testing numbers were decent, and he does check boxes the Steelers look for (considering historical trends) when evaluating WRs.  So, while there may be a good chance he won’t be selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, Bussey Jr.’s name is one to keep an eye on in the last couple of rounds, should the Steelers decide to add some more WR depth.  If not, still keep your eyes on him as a potential undrafted free agent that the Steelers might show some interest in.  Overall, I believe Bussey Jr. should be viewed as more of a solid, depth contributor, rather than a high-ceiling dart throw, but he has shown some potential as a technician that could be enticing enough for a franchise to want to develop.

Projection: Round Seven, Priority UDFA

Games Watched: University of Texas at San Antonio (2017), Arkansas (2018), University of Alabama at Birmingham (2018), Rice (2018), Florida Atlantic (2018), Abilene Christian (2019), New Mexico (2020), Boise State (2020), Hula Bowl (2021)

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