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Wide receiver realism: John Ross is not a bust yet, and is it time to look at Auden Tate?

After another rough performance from the former first-round pick, patience remains the proper course of action for the Bengals offense. But another option at the position is waiting in the wings.

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Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I don’t even want to imagine what the discourse surrounding John Ross would be if he didn’t score a touchdown in Week 1 against the Colts. Because immediately following Sunday’s game against the Panthers when Andy Dalton threw two interceptions his way, it got pretty ugly.

I’m not here to tell you that your sentiments were unwarranted considering the timing, nor are they uncommon. The only thing more expected than outlandish overreactions following a loss are now flags for tackling the quarterback. I’m also not going to find these tweets in a number of weeks if Ross happens to go off, because I’d never call people out for cold takes. *wink*

Ross does deserves blame for the lackluster start of his second season. In three games, Ross has a mere five receptions on 13 targets that have gone for 27 yards to go with aforementioned touchdown and interceptions thrown his way. I’m tired of saying Ross is too talented not to produce vastly better than this, but it remains the truth. Because talent has nothing to do with it.

This was not the best throw or decision by Dalton, but it’s never great when the cornerback runs the route better than the receiver. This was the first interception thrown by Dalton in 79 attempts, and the first of two he would throw while targeting Ross.

I broke this play down yesterday, and assessed that blame should reside with both Dalton and Ross. But again, it doesn’t look great when isolating Ross on the play.

Admittedly, the game plan offensive coordinator Bill Lazor could be better at utilizing Ross. In an NFL where the “mesh” concept reigns supreme, we’ve yet to see Ross get schemed open over the middle, allowing him to damage with the ball in manufactured space.

Instead, we’ve seen a lot of quick passes forced to Ross in tight coverage and defenses have had no issue limiting the ninth-overall pick in the chances he’s gotten. His true impact has been felt when the ball isn’t designed to go his way.

I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who feels this way, but it’s gotten to the point where if Ross is targeted, I’m grimacing—and it shouldn’t be this way at this point. Not after all the turbulence he went through last season to get here. Not after the team let go of Brandon LaFell and he was vaulted into the starting lineup. Not after he kickstarted the end of Vontae Davis’ career in the preseason. Not after he secured his first career catch in the end zone just two weeks ago.

When will the mental hurdles be in the rear view mirror?

Not every case is the same, but the Bengals have first-hand experience in dealing with a second-year receiver seemingly lacking in mental side of the game. This time last year we weren’t sure if Tyler Boyd would turn into a bust after injuries and an off-the-field incident looked like it derailed his sophomore season before it began.

Boyd was a healthy scratch for a number of games and had appeared to lose trust with the coaching staff. It was this adversity that Boyd eventually overcame in the last two games of the year, and now he leads the team with 249 receiving yards through three games this season.

I’m not saying that Ross will turn out exactly like Boyd in time, who clearly has developed wonderful chemistry with Dalton in recent months, but I’m not not saying that as well. What is clear is that Ross can still be defined by what made him the ninth-overall pick in last year’s draft, and not the mountains he has still yet to climb in his own psyche.

Ross wouldn’t even be the first Bengals receiver in the Marvin Lewis era to turn in a solid career after a slow start.

So please, for the sake of not getting owned, ease up on the trigger to blast Ross. Fair criticism is fair criticism, but don’t write the takes in ink just yet like some did for Boyd last year.

So...about Auden Tate...

Yes, let’s discuss the youngest weapon in the young Bengals receiving corps.

Through three weeks, Tate has yet to not be listed as an inactive player on game days. He has been joined by fellow receiver Cody Core on the inactives list up until this week when Core got the green light after he fully recovered from his injury he suffered during training camp, and actually made an impact play as a gunner on punt teams by downing a punt inside the one yard-line.

For reasons such as this, Core was expected to get the nod over Tate to dress on a weekly basis. A team carrying seven receivers on its roster is unlikely to activate them all, and Tate provides the least amount of value in terms of potential participation. He’s not an asset on special teams, and he’s still a wild card at the receiver position.

But with A.J. Green banged up after the loss to Carolina and uncertain to play against Atlanta, is it time to see how Tate handles the real stage?

If Green is held out, the Bengals could roll with six receivers again like they did last week when Core returned, or they could stick with five like the previous two weeks. If they chose the latter, Tate is probably still the odd man out. But considering the options outside of Boyd and Ross are slim, Tate may get his chance.

One of those options is Josh Malone, who played a decent amount of snaps after Green left the game in the second half and didn’t exactly set the field on fire with his 12 yards on one catch and three targets. He was also the one targeted by Dalton which resulted in his second interception of the game. Core only saw six snaps on offense, which may be the number Tate would get against Atlanta if he plays.

The Bengals are currently five point underdogs to the 1-2 Falcons and are in danger of dropping to 2-2 without their best player on offense. The receivers not named Boyd and their play caller Boyd need to make a statement against a banged up Falcons defense this Sunday to avoid that from happening.