John Ross might have been better off if he never set the NFL Combine record in the 40 yard dash. For some reason, it seems like people see that he accomplished that feat and think that is all he is: just another speedster and not a complete player. Those people are wrong. Ross is an extremely talented route runner who has excellent hands. His speed is merely the icing on the cake. As he returns from a rookie campaign defined by injury, can he have the sophomore bump that William Jackson experienced in 2017?
Ross’s athleticism is not just about speed. In the clip below he taps his feet and postures himself as if he is going for an inside release. This causes the cornerback’s feet to get wide and allows Ross to release to the outside, unaccosted and gives the quarterback enough space to put the ball to Ross’ outside shoulder.
It takes more than just speed to get open in the NFL. Fortunately Ross is a skilled route runner. In the clip below the Washington product stems his route to the outside and flashes his shoulders. This causes the defensive back (most likely terrified of Ross’ speed) to break on an out-cutting route that wasn’t coming. Ross places himself just inside the defender and takes his route up the seams for a touchdown.
Ross is not just fast, he is quick. Here in the Bengals’ preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys, Ross lowers his hips and chops his feet to make an inside cut. He has the burst to create separation quickly giving the quarrterback a window to make the throw. Ross takes a shot from the safety at the end, but holds onto the ball for a two-point conversion giving the Bengals the lead.
In the two clips below, Ross demonstrates his ability to adjust to poor ball placement. In the clip against Cal (in blue) he gets adjusted to the low pass and makes the reception in the end zone. In the clip against Utah (in red) he not only adjusts to the pass thrown behind him, but still managers to beat the three nearby defenders into the end zone.
Ross also has excellent hands, but in the clip below he only needed one. As his quarterback was in trouble and threw up a prayer, Ross goes up vertically and pulls the ball down with one hand. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, he turns it up field for a touchdown. This is the kind of playmaker the Bengals have been looking to put opposite A.J. Green.
Making a tough catch isn’t always about doing something ridiculous athletically as was the case above. In the clip below, Ross has a defender hanging on him, but keeps his eyes on the ball and comes down with the touchdown catch.
With speed like Ross’ he will be hard for defenders to catch in the open field, even if they have a good angle. Here, Ross shows that he also has the agility and vision to make defenders who are in front of him miss.
In the Bengals’ third preseason game, fans finally saw the connection they have been waiting to see since the team drafted Ross in 2017: Dalton to Ross. Ross showed incredible agility to make two defenders miss and find his way into the endzone.
Ross’ athleticism holds up against NFL competition. In the clip below from the Bengals’ first preseason game this year, Ross jukes the Chicago defender to turn a short gain into a long one that set up a touchdown. The Bengals didn’t just draft Ross to catch deep balls, they drafted him to makes plays after the catch and he has shown he can do just that.
Ross may be the fastest man in the history of the NFL Combine, but he is so much more than that. He runs very good routes and has excellent ball skills. If he can emerge as the Bengals’ No. 2 receiver, the offense could be extremely prolific in 2018.