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It’s still too early to give up on John Ross

Draft Network analyst calls John Ross the biggest bust of 2017, but it’s still too early to make that judgement.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns

The Draft Network’s Trevor Sikkema, recently published a piece titled The Biggest Bust of the 2017 NFL.

Not surprisingly, the article was about Bengals wide receiver John Ross. It is not a hard argument to make. Ross did little in 2018 and literally nothing as a rookie in 2017. To Sikkema’s credit, he did leave the caveat in his evaluation that Ross could turn it around this season, but he missed some key points.

First is that head coach Marvin Lewis never wanted Ross, and the guy who did (offensive coordinator Ken Zampese) didn’t make it long that season. Ross missed time with injury as a rookie, and when he got back, he had no idea what he was doing.

Despite his injury, his position coach should have been instructed to spend time one on one with him working to get his mind ready once his body had healed. This apparently did not happen. The head coach, the offensive coordinator (by then Bill Lazor) and the position coach (James Urban) have to shoulder some responsibility for that.

So between injury and mismanagement, his rookie year was a wash. Ironically, in this tale of the tortoise and the hare, it is the league’s fastest player who has been cast as the tortoise.

Even in his second season, he was dealing with coaches that didn’t truly understand how to use him. Lazor remained in charge of the offense, and outside of some jet sweeps that were called in predictable situations, little effort was made to get the ball into the hands of this play maker.

In 2017, three wide receivers were selected in the top nine picks. The Titans started things off, taking Corey Davis with the 5th pick, the Chargers were next selecting Mike Williams with the 7th, and finally the Bengals selected John Ross with the 9th overall pick.

Unlike Ross, Davis and Williams actually had coaches who were trying to get them on the field and help them be successful in their first year.

If you figure that Ross is a year behind due to injury and mismanagement in his rookie season, it would make sense to compare his stats from 2018 with Davis and Williams in 2017. As rookies, Davis had 34 receptions for 375 yards and no touchdown,s while Williams had 11 receptions for 95 yards and no touchdowns.

As a second-year player in 2018 Ross had 21 receptions for 210 yards and seven touchdowns. Outside of the touchdown number, this puts Ross pretty squarely between Davis and Williams.

The Titans focused on getting the ball to Davis in 2018, and his production increased to 891 yards and four touchdowns on 65 receptions.

Williams took a big step in 2018 with 43 receptions for 664 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Ross now has played a full season in which he was mostly healthy and the coaching staff was at least trying to get him involved. He has had time to build a rapport with and hopefully gain the trust of quarterback Andy Dalton.

Like Davis in 2018, he has a new play caller from the McVay system. Although his own injury has kept him sidelined early in camp, that of A.J. Green has created a tremendous opportunity for him.

The point is this. After a rookie season that accomplished nothing, Ross can’t truly be judged against his draft class peers who have had two legitimate NFL seasons. If he can stay healthy, he has a chance to make a leap in 2019.

Don’t call him a bust just yet.