Many people may still not know that John Ross caught 17 touchdowns in his final year at the University of Washington.
Those same people may also be shocked to learn that 12 of those scores came from inside the red zone.
Ross was always more than just a threat to stretch the field as a wide receiver. After all, you don’t draft a player who can only do one thing well in the first 10 picks. Yet, this was the perception that lingered over Ross for more than a year following a rookie season that was plagued by injuries.
Now, it seems that all Ross does is score touchdowns.
Ross’ first catch of the season was also his first touchdown, and the rate of touchdowns per catch has only gone down slightly since then. Through 10 games this year, he has six touchdowns on 18 catches, and it’s far from an issue for him.
“I think it kind of happens that way,” Ross told reporters on Wednesday. “They call the right plays at the right time. Andy (Dalton) and Jeff (Driskel) do an unbelievable job of throwing a perfect ball inside the red zone. I just try to go out there and make a play whenever my number is called.”
That first touchdown was truly a perfect ball from Dalton, but that play should’ve given us confirmation that Ross was a difference-maker in the short game. He could win against tight coverage on quick passes and achieve separation when it matter.
Nice ball by Andy and John Ross hauls in the first touchdown of his career. pic.twitter.com/h9k33ltdc3— James Rapien (@JamesRapien) September 9, 2018
Of course, Ross’ red zone efficiency can easily be countered with his inefficiency outside of the red zone. He’s hauled in seven of his nine red zone targets and four of them have resulted in touchdowns. Beyond the opponent’s 20-yard line, he’s caught just 11 of 34 targets for two touchdowns. 13 of those 23 incompletions were on deep targets from both Andy Dalton and Jeff Driskel. But Driskel has recognized the jump in Ross’ game regardless and knows the kind of weapon he’s developed into.
“That’s kind of a crazy stat to have a third of all your catches be touchdowns,” Driskel said. “He does a good job down there in tight of making contested catches and getting open. He’s definitely somebody we look for down in the red zone, but also out in the open field as well. We expect him to continue to improve and produce more game after game.
“He’s definitely come a long way,” Driskel continued. “Whether it is understanding our offense, our scheme and what we are trying to get done or understanding how leverage works and what defenses are trying to do, he’s definitely come a long way. He is just going to continue to improve and the sky is just the limit for him.”
And that’s the important thing, because while many of those deep targets that fell incomplete were because either Dalton or Driskel misjudged Ross’ speed, Ross still has shown signs that he’s still a growing player. The Bengals’ upcoming matchup with the Raiders this Sunday will be Ross’ 14th career game; and even this year he dealt with nagging injuries. The more he plays, the more comfortable he’ll be.
“The whole mental side of it, getting a chance to be out there you learn so much as opposed to watching,” Ross said. “In college, I think it was different, I sat out for a year after my knee injury and I kind of watched things from a coach perspective. You can always dictate the speed at those levels, but here everything is much faster mentally and physically. To actually be out there I am learning a lot and got a chance to create some opportunities for myself that I didn’t have before.”
You don’t get better at football by not playing football.
John Ross is playing football, and right now, he’s scoring touchdowns.
It’ll get even better, but where he is now, is good enough.