There was perhaps no first-round draft pick from the 2017 class that was more disappointing than wide receiver John Ross, the ninth-overall selection by the Cincinnati Bengals, and the second wide receiver that the team had drafted in the top two rounds over the course of the previous two drafts.
Touted primarily as a speed demon, Ross established a new Combine 40-yard dash record with a blazing mark officially timed at 4.22 seconds, the fastest ever recorded in that venue. But he was also regarded as a player who might struggle with the physicality of the NFL, and during his rookie season, he hardly got the opportunity to show it.
That’s because he already came into the season injured, and left it that way as well, ending up having surgery on his shoulder in the offseason. He recognizes in hindsight that he pushed his body to do things that it wasn’t ready yet to do, and is hungry to prove himself for a Bengals offense that desperately needs a receiving complement to A.J. Green.
“My body didn’t respond the way I wanted it to”, he told the team’s website about the trials and tribulations of his rookie season. “Coming in late [after having surgery], I didn’t get to train. I was out of shape. That was pretty tough on my body. Rushing into it. Being out of shape. My body couldn’t take the physical aspects of the game we do every day”.
Being young, athletic, and let’s face it, naïve, with a sense of invincibility, however, Ross was convinced that he would be able to handle it. “I thought I could. I think it kind of wore me out faster than I thought”, he admitted. “I really didn’t catch up until the end of the year when I started to have better practices. It all started to click together. It was already kind of too late. It was best to rest, get my body right”.
But as for his 40-yard dash time, he couldn’t care less, even though he knows it’s going to be talked about widely this week. The 40-yard dash is the most-discussed aspect of the Combine, and the Holy Grail is seeing fast wide receivers and defensive backs try to break the fastest mark ever recorded, which he now owns.
While speed is a part of his game, and values his abilities in that regard, he notes that his pre-draft discussion prior to the Combine wasn’t framed exactly that way. He chipped his time down after working for nearly two months with a professional speed coach, saying that prior to working with him, he actually had terrible running form, beginning with a time of 4.53.
Ross played all of 17 snaps in three games during the 2017 season, recording one touch, a run at the end of which he fumbled. At the moment, Bengals fans remember him more for that than for his blazing 40-yard dash time of nearly a year ago, a fact of which he is well aware.