Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross has had one of the oddest NFL career arcs in recent memory.
After making a name for himself as the NFL Combine record-setter in the 40-yard dash and being selected No. 9 overall, Ross’ pro career has since been filled with frustration. Whether it was because of injuries, simple mistakes that weren’t part of his college tape and/or his seemingly endless stint in Marvin Lewis’ doghouse, the former top-10 pick has been walking the razor’s edge of being a bust.
However, the talented wideout is aware of just how big 2019 is for the rest of his pro career. As he enters that critical third season and with a new coaching staff on board, Ross is looking to hit the reset button.
“Me, personally, I like to compete, so it doesn’t matter to me,” Ross told Bengals.com recently about some recent additions to the receiver room. “I think the bigger that room gets, the heavier the competition gets, the more fun it gets. I think that’s the best thing about our room: the ability to compete. I don’t think there’s anyone in that room who’s scared to compete.”
In terms of offseason additions at wide receiver, the Cincinnati Bengals have been very quiet. This spring was filled with unfounded trade rumors surrounding both Ross and A.J. Green, but nothing materialized on that front up through free agency and the draft.
In fact, one could argue that the highest-profile addition they made was undrafted free agent Stanley Morgan. It’s possible that these lack of moves are signs of both faith in Ross, as well as confidence in keeping A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd by the team for the long-term.
“I wasn’t surprised—I think it surprised other people more than it surprised us,” Ross said when asked about the team opting to not use one of their 10 2019 draft picks on a receiver. “I think we’ve got a lot of good talent, a lot of good guys in our room—definitely on paper—we’ve just got to put it together on the field. Zac (Taylor), coach Callahan are doing a great job of getting us ready...I can only imagine how much fun camp is going to be.”
Last year, Ross made strides of improvement in some areas, but continued to have issues in others. For instance, he had seven touchdown receptions, which was tied for first on the team with Boyd. However, he only notched 21 receptions (sixth on the team), while drops and consistency were noticeable on tape.
The hope with Ross is that with a receiver-friendly system and a clean slate in the eyes of this coaching staff, he’ll get back to being the dominant college player he was with the Washington Huskies. A lot of play-action passes and yards-after-the-catch routes should also play in his favor.
Still, even with the lack of high-profile additions in the position group, Ross has some work to do to endear himself to this new staff. Morgan could leapfrog guys like Josh Malone and Cody Core for a roster spot, while Auden Tate and Alex Erickson will be vying for more snaps on offense. Plus, there is still the option of doing a post-draft scouring of the free agent market for rental deal help.
Regardless, it appears that Zac Taylor is committed to Ross this season, as evidenced by his direct talk with the embattled receiver when those trade rumors surfaced.
“It’s funny. I was getting so many calls and I was missing all of these calls and everyone thought I was mad, but I was actually at the dentist,” Ross said with a chuckle when recalling the trade rumors from a couple of months ago. “I talked to Zac (Taylor) and Zac told me ‘There’s a lot of rumors going around’, my agent called me and he didn’t know what was going on—he thought I was actually going to get traded. But, Zac called and cleared it up—that was a sign of relief.”
In an attempt to drive fan optimism in an offseason filled with the odd dichotomy of great change in the coaching staff but similar spring operational practices, the Bengals have essentially told fans that a new staff and better luck with health will get the team to a potential championship level.
While that may be true, they will also need to see improvement from some critical young players on the roster like Ross.