John Ross was drafted ninth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals and will run his routes opposite superstar A.J. Green. His combine-record 4.22 speed should have a profound impact on the Bengals offense.
It’s not a perfect landing spot for Ross in terms of available targets. Still, with Green on the other side, Ross will get to test his speed against No. 2 corners. His ability to fly will add a degree of difficulty as defenses roll safety help to Green. And with the pair of them on the outside, Tyler Eifert should have plenty of room underneath coverages. While the targets may be thin, the Bengals now look to have a very dynamic passing offense.
I’ll get more into the Bengals below, but here is the profile of the player they just added.
John Ross, Washington, 5-11, 188
Final Age: 21.11 Vert: 37 Cone: N/A
Raw and Market Share College Production
The asterisks alongside Ross’s 2014 market share numbers denote an interesting part of his unique profile. During his true sophomore season, after the Huskies dismissed future Defensive Rookie of the Year Marcus Peters from the team, Ross was switched over to cornerback for the final five games. The move came despite Ross accounting for 40 percent of the team’s receiving TDs and over 25 percent of the team’s receiving yards in the first eight games of that season.
There are two ways to look at the team’s decision, the optimistic being it had less to do with whether the offensive unit would miss his presence and more to do with his 4.22 athleticism and history as a four-star, non-positionally-designated “athlete” coming out of high school. In other words, while some have suggested that decision tells us something valuable about what the team thought of his offensive contributions, it’s also possible he was uniquely positioned to take on the challenge.
Whatever the case, Ross’s profile reads thin on raw receiving numbers in his first two seasons, includes a season lost to an ACL tear in 2015, and features a monster redshirt junior year. But the market share numbers in the WR games of his sophomore season make his three-year production look better, and it’s important to note he added four kick return TDs and two rushing TDs on 20 carries over his career.2
As far as his speed, the 4.22 is on everyone’s mind. There have been a lot of comps to players like Will Fuller, but it’s important to recognize Ross ran a full tenth of a second faster. We look at receivers who run 4.4s differently than those who run 4.5s, right? And if we knew that the average NFL cornerback ran, say, a 4.4 or a 4.45, the advantage to running a 4.22 would be twice the size as running a 4.32. In other words, because of the distance from the mean, a tenth of a second between 4.22 and 4.32 likely offers more of an impact than the difference between 4.4 and 4.5. But for some reason we commonly throw all speedsters into one little comp package, tie a bow on it, and call it a day.
Let’s take a different angle and look at his production comps using the Box Score Scout.
The Box Score Scout dings Ross from a career market share perspective, counting the games he played on the defensive side of the ball as part of his total. The top comps are mostly later picks, as there simply aren’t many high draft picks with such low career numbers. Though there are interesting names here like Dwayne Bowe, Michael Thomas, and Anquan Boldin, Ross is a very different player. He’s a hard guy to comp, but let’s remove his career numbers (focusing on final season production) and add in his speed.
We still don’t get a great list of comps, as the app spits out a number of players without recorded 40 times. Makes sense – not many recorded times are actually all that similar to Ross’s.
In our other measures, Ross ranked fourth overall, and third among WRs, in our final RotoViz Scouting Index. RotoViz analysts as a whole were a little down on him, as he came in at WR3 in our pre-draft rookie rankings. He posted a solid Phenom Index score of 2.19.
In the short term, Ross has plenty of target competition. Apart from Green and Eifert, the team used a third-round pick on Tyler Boyd last season, and they also chose to bring back Brandon LaFell. Giovani Bernard is coming off an ACL tear, but is also one of the more accomplished receiving backs in the league.
Still, Kevin Cole’s Opportunity Score had the Bengals near the middle of the pack. Should Ross beat out Boyd and LaFell for second in WR targets, he could be in good shape. Eifert, Green, and Bernard each missed significant time in 2016. He’ll have a harder time picking up targets on the same offense as a player like Green than he might have in another landing spot, and his high-TD profile will have a hard time translating with both Green and red zone monster Eifert in the fold. The flip side is he should have room to run, so I’d expect a few big plays (and thus strong fantasy games) but more of a roller coaster of output early in his career.
I had Ross as my No. 2 WR coming into the draft, and with Mike Williams landing in a crowded Chargers’ receiving corps and no other WRs like JuJu Smith-Schuster landing in the first round, I’ll likely keep him there.
Perhaps the best answer to the question of how to play the crowded WR group is to target the guy who will be throwing their way, Andy Dalton. Dalton checks in as QB19 in MFL10 ADP at present, but I’d expect that to rise in the coming months. He certainly has the weapons to be viewed as a low-end QB1 or high-end QB2 on average.
Green shouldn’t be too heavily affected, although his high-end volume projection takes a hit. He’s still a comfortable bet for strong target numbers and might even benefit efficiency-wise if Ross starts hot and forces teams to adjust for him. There’s a very short list of players that could force teams to give Green less attention, but Ross is a truly unique threat.
Eifert might also lose some targets, but he’s another guy who could benefit on the efficiency scale. He had a remarkably efficient 2015 in his last full season, and while he might not reach those heights again, he’s shown an ability to produce very strong numbers on lower volume.
Boyd is the big loser in my estimation, mostly because he had the potential to carve out a decent target total, and that looks far less likely with Ross coming in as a top-10 pick. Boyd should still dominate playing time out of the slot, but it’ll be hard to see him making a big second-year jump.
LaFell becomes essentially undraftable. He’ll still see snaps as a veteran presence, but I expect his game log to have a lot of duds, a number of 4-40 type games, and few startable lines.
It’s not the perfect landing spot for Ross as a dynasty asset, but it could have been worse. Meanwhile, the Bengals add a dynamic playmaker who should open up their offense. While things are crowded, Andy Dalton now has the weaponry to be a legitimate fantasy asset, and the Bengals have the passing game to be a much improved offense in 2017.
Find all our 2017 NFL Draft reaction content here.
- The Phenom Index – Jon Moore combines age and market share of receiving yards into a single number. Historical success rates are provided, and scores for the 2017 draft class can be compared to those from previous years.
- Jim Kloet provides context, graphing WR college market shares by age.
- Josh Hermsmeyer calculated dominator ratings for all of this year’s prospects. Dominator rating is the average of a player’s market share of receiving yards and market share of receiving touchdowns. In terms of predicting NFL success, any number over 0.50 projects as an NFL superstar or Top 10 overall pick value. Scores from 0.45-0.50 are excellent (roughly Top 15 pick value), 0.40-0.45 very good (Top 20 pick), 0.35-0.40 (late first, early second), 0.30-0.35 (second round to third round), below 0.30 (middle round pick).
- Note: A 2015 tweet from Ross and a further report after being drafted suggest he is a year younger than most have him listed as, so I’m going with that.
Way more excited about the season being over then turning 20 today! Almost back! Happy to keep the AppleCup trophy in Seattle! #Godawgs— John Ross III (@WatchJRoss) November 28, 2015
I asked John Ross the most incorrect thing he's seen written about himself. He says everyone gets his age wrong. He's 21, not 22— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) April 28, 2017
- As for his freshman season, he came to UW alongside top 10 WR prospect and future Ole Miss transfer Damore’ea Stringfellow, joining a receiving corps that featured three upper-class WRs that would go on to be NFL practice squad players (Kasen Williams, Jaydon Mickens, Kevin Smith) as well as tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. All of them had played for at least a season with senior quarterback Keith Price, and an apologist (such as myself) might argue Ross earning some playing time is notable. It’s fair to question if he’s really the late bloomer he’s been labeled. (back)