John Ross is as polarizing of a figure among Bengals fans as any. Ross was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, but he’s come nowhere near the expectations that come with being a top-10 pick.
There are many reasons to believe that Ross can turn it all around this season, but there is no question that time is running out in Cincinnati for the young receiver. This season will go a long way in deciding which way his career in Cincinnati will go.
Hometown: Long Beach, CA
Experience: Entering his third season
Ross is entering the third year of his rookie contract, and has a base salary of just over $2 million for the season, according to Spotrac. Ross will carry a $4.66 million cap hit for the 2019 season. The real question will come next offseason when the Bengals have the opportunity to exercise a fifth-year option on their first round pick. If they don’t, Ross is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent during the 2021 offseason.
Ross’ rookie season was filled with turmoil. He was injured coming into the regular season, and when he made his debut, he fumbled the first time he touched the ball. That caused former head coach Marvin Lewis to bench him for the game despite already making Tyler Boyd a healthy scratch that week.
That was the only real meaningful play we saw from Ross his rookie season. He was very publicly called out by his coach for not knowing what he was doing, and he was a “healthy” scratch for most games. Ross did reveal to the medical staff towards the end of the season that he had been hiding a shoulder injury, which then landed him on injured reserve.
Last season, we saw a better version of Ross. He had 21 catches for 210 yards and seven touchdowns. The touchdowns are really the saving grace for Ross’ sophomore season. It was a hamstring injury that shortened last season for Ross, and he was also called out by Marvin Lewis (and Dave Lapham on the radio broadcast) after their Week 3 contest against the Panthers when a late pass his way ended up being intercepted.
There was plenty of blame to be thrown around the play, but Ross became the easy target. He sprinkled in a few more eye opening plays throughout the season, but his critics were still far from satisfied by the end of 2018.
Outlook for 2019
I think calling a season a “make-it-or-break-it” season for a player often gets overused, but in this situation it is fitting in a way. We should have a very good idea of what kind of player Ross will be after this season. He was a top-10 draft pick, he hasn’t played up to that moniker and there is a new coaching staff in place that has no real ties to him. Even with all of that, fans should be confident in Ross next season.
One big reason is a new coaching staff, headed by new head coach Zac Taylor, that embraces the ideals of a modern offense. This could do wonders for a guy with Ross’ skill-set. His speed is his most dangerous weapon. It not only helps create plays for himself, but it makes everything easier for other players when the defense has to account for him taking off downfield.
However, it felt like at times last season that Cincinnati was far too interested in using him primarily as a decoy rather than allowing him to use his speed to make plays.
You could even say he could end up filling a Brandin Cooks-type of role in the Bengals new offense. Go click that link to find out how the Rams allowed Cooks to use his speed and threat of his speed to open up easier and more open short and intermediate throws.
These are things the Bengals, for whatever reason, didn’t do a lot of with Ross last season. Even just by changing that, we should see a more productive Ross in 2019 even if he remains the fourth or fifth option on the offense. You shouldn’t expect anything close to 1,000-yard season, but he should ignite some confidence in his future.
There is a portion of Bengals fans who want Ross cut, but we can really put that notion to rest. Despite false rumors popping that the Bengals were discussing trading Ross, his spot on this roster is safe for many reasons.
The Bengals of all franchises should know how important year three is for receivers. After witnessing how impactful Tyler Boyd became in his third year, there is clear precedent for Ross to be able to step up in a meaningful way. It certainly isn’t a given, but why cut Ross if there is even a chance that this new staff can turn him around?
The obvious reasoning here is money and cap related. Ross is cheap, and he has the potential to out-play what he is making the next few seasons. Not to mention if the team cut Ross, they’d be hit with a little bit over a $10 million cap hit, so they gain absolutely nothing by moving on from Ross in any scenario.
Still, Ross is already drawing plenty of frustration after he suffered a hamstring injury in July that has cost him all of training camp and the preseason, robbing him of valuable reps in a new offense that he really hasn’t gotten to be part of yet.
Even so, this is a fresh start from Ross, and it is his last impression to earn the Bengals exercising the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. He is expected to play in Week 1 vs. the Seahawks, a game in which A.J. Green will miss with his ankle injury. That makes it a golden opportunity for Ross to get off to a fast start this season.
Ross’ absolute last chance won’t come until the 2020 season, but if the implementation of this new coaching staff and offense doesn’t get Ross to playing up to snuff, then the odds they bring in someone else to compete for his job become pretty high.
Roster odds: 99%