To the surprise of some, the Cincinnati Bengals used the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on University of Washington wide receiver John Ross. While he was the third receiver taken in the first nine picks, he brings a dimension that no other receiver in this class does: immense speed. It’s the second time since 2011 that the Bengals have used a top-10 selection on a wide receiver, with A.J. Green being a No. 4 overall selection. Those two picks are the only two the Bengals have had in the top 10 in that span.
The way the board fell through the first eight picks was interesting, but the Bengals grabbed the guy who they think can make the offense do a 180 from last year’s often-stagnant unit. With Green, Tyler Eifert, Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd in the fold, this offense suddenly got incredibly deep with pass-catchers.
What Ross Brings to the Bengals:
Speed...duh: In case you’ve been living under a rock, Ross is the current record-holder for the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine with a scorching 4.22 seconds. In college, Ross ran by some quality cornerbacks to immense results, including fellow first-round classmate, Adoree Jackson.
Whether it’s with the deep ball going vertically down the sideline, or taking a short route a long way, Ross brings speed and explosiveness to an offense that lacked it in 2016—particularly when Green and Eifert weren’t on the field. Even when Marvin Jones was here and stretched the field well, he didn’t bring the same fear that Ross will from opposing NFL defenses.
Yards-After-The-Catch and Offensive Scheme-Fit: While Ken Zampese and Andy Dalton like to stretch the field at times, they also like dialing up short plays to receivers who can take them a long way. LaFell critics are prevalent, but he does have an ability to get additional yards and it’s a reason why they brought him back this year. Green, who does it all, is also quite good in this regard.
Ross has the ability to take a short slant a long way and does have the ability to break open-field tackles for his somewhat-small stature. It isn’t just his straight-line speed that allows him to make plays though. He’s shifty and has shown the ability to “break the ankles” of opposing defenders.
Versatility: Along with being an outstanding receiver in college, Ross also flashed the ability to score in two other ways. He had a rushing touchdown in 2016 and has four career kickoff returns to his name. The Bengals were sometimes creative with Andrew Hawkins, particularly on offense, so they might do the same with Ross.
Sure, the Bengals already have an able kick returner in Alex Erickson, but sporadically putting Ross back there to pop another potential big play might be a part of the early years of his Bengals career, as he fights with other able pass-catchers on offense. You have to get the ball in your best playmakers’ hands, right?
Why the Pick Makes Sense:
Not just a speed guy, but a red zone threat and polished route-runner: As you look at Ross’ highlights, you might be pleasantly surprised to see that it’s not just the random long bomb that gets him into the end zone. Sure, with the 4.22 speed, that comes with the territory, but we’re not talking about Troy Williamson, Torrey Smith or Cordarrelle Patterson here. This is a guy who can run quite a few different routes, not just “the nine”.
As you sift through his film, he moves the sticks, and, most importantly, catches short passes in the red zone area. Injuries piled up on offense for the Bengals last year, so their inability to score touchdowns really reared its ugly head. Couple that with an inconsistent kicking game and a lack of points cost them a possible playoff push late in the year. Ross, though only 5’10”, can still navigate his way into the end zone on short passes.
High Character: The Bengals have been linked to a couple of players with some red flags off of the field, but Ross is one of the cleaner players in this year’s draft. With the Adam Jones saga hanging over their heads, it’s nice to see the Bengals getting a guy with good work ethic and a clean personal record.
Playing Through Injuries: The biggest knocks and concerns with Ross, be it with draft pundits or Bengals fans, is a durability issue. The former Husky had some knee problems and is currently recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, he still played in all 14 games in 2016 for Washington, racking up 81 catches 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns through the issues.
Over the past couple of years, the Bengals have suffered significant injuries to their talented pass-catchers. Whether it was Eifert, Green and/or Jones, the team just wasn’t fully capable of working at high-efficiency without them. Even if Ross gets nicked up with the Bengals, some signs point to him playing through them and remaining productive.
Screw you, Ravens: When we analyzed the William Jackson pick last year, we noted how part of the Bengals’ strategy in drafting the Houston corner might have been to undercut the Steelers, who were known to have wanted him. With Corey Davis and Mike Williams on the board, the speedy Ross seemed like a good fit for Joe Flacco’s big arm.
But, the Bengals, who also were addressing their own needs, took the last receiver worthy of a first round grade, with Baltimore responding with Alabama cornerback, Marlon Humphrey at No. 16 overall. While it likely a primary focus, the Bengals got better while handicapping a division rival. Also, Cincinnati wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere near as an explosive receiver in the later rounds.
Analytics: For the data geeks out there, Pro Football Focus liked John Ross and even compared him to DeSean Jackson. While that may or may not please some fans, if you were to rewind the 2008 NFL Draft, Jackson would likely have a similar top-10 spot as Ross, given his three Pro Bowl berths. Per PFF:
If teams look past Ross’ small stature, they’ll be getting a special receiver. While his speed is obviously his biggest asset, it’s not all Ross has. He knows how to get open using his footwork and can beat press coverage off the line with both his feet and his hands. He catches the ball consistently and once it’s in his hands, there’s very few better at seeing the field and finding open space. Ross can line up all over the field and make plays. Couple all of that with his return abilities and Ross has the potential to be one of if not the most exciting receiver to come out of this draft.
We not only did a live episode of The Orange and Black Insider to discuss the Bengals’ pick, but also did a Facebook Live session to the masses. Cincy Jungle will be bringing an immense amount of coverage throughout the weekend, so keep it here for breaking news, analysis and all pertinent information on the draft and the Bengals’ selections!