When the Cincinnati Bengals used their ninth overall pick to take John Ross, the fastest man in NFL Combine history, everyone thought their offense would be explosive. So far, it has been anything but.
Not only has the offense been sluggish, but the rookie wideout has been absent. After eight weeks, these are Ross’ stats in 2017; two games, 11 snaps, one target, no receptions, one rush, 12 rushing yards, one fumble.
So, what the [bleep] is going on with John Ross?
Isn’t that the question we are all asking? At least, that’s the question Lance McAlister asked former Bengal and current analyst Dave Lapham.
“I think they just need to see him practice more,” Lapham responded. “I think they feel like he’s in the early stages of training camp and everyone else is at midseason.”
Ross entered training camp with a knee injury and missed a lot of practice time as a result. The team recused him from contact drills for most of camp and kept him out of the preseason.
When Ross finally saw some action in Week 2, everyone else had already been going for six weeks. Shortly after making his NFL debut, Ross landed back on the inactive list for another six weeks, missing even more practice time and snaps. Lapham thinks this has hurt Ross’ playing time.
“There’s shape and then there’s football shape,” continues Lapham, “he just hasn’t been doing enough football to be in the same shape that, you know, everybody else is in that has played a lot of snaps into the mid-season.”
Josh Malone has burst onto the scene in the last two weeks, which further complicates Ross’ comeback. In the Bengals’ Week 8 clash against the Colts, Malone had two catches for 35 yards and a touchdown.
“Malone stepped up when he got his chance,” added Lapham. “Other guys have made plays.”
Cody Core and Alex Erickson are other players who have had playing time at Ross’ expense. Core, a sixth round pick last year, has had no catches in 2017, but has been targeted four times. Erickson, who was signed as an undrafted free agent a year ago, has surprisingly been the team’s third most productive wide receiver this season, logging six catches for 96 yards.
Not only is Erickson a surprising pass-catching prospect, but he has established himself as one of the best kick returners in the NFL over the last two years.
Contributing on special teams is another area where other receivers have the edge over Ross.
“If you’re the fifth receiver of those five guys, you better be doing a lot of special teams things, and he’s not.” Lapham said. “Core and Malone can be gunner, they can play all the special teams. So, in terms of total number of snaps to effect a game, they’re higher on the totem pole than he [Ross] is right now until he shows that he’s exactly where he needs to be physically and mentally to be included in a rotation of just wide receiver play.”
Ross’ lack of involvement in special teams might continue to impede his progress. If he can get more playing time on special teams, he might eventually beat out Core and Malone. Lapham believes Ross needs to prove his value in all aspects of the game.
“Until he shows that, [Core’s and Malone’s] special teams snaps are going to out do him.”