John Ross wants to be a problem for other teams. So far, the only team he has been a problem for is the team that drafted him, the Cincinnati Bengals, who used a high first-round draft pick on him last year. The fastest player in the history of the Combine recorded only one touch during his rookie season, and it was a fumble on a 12-yard run.
Of course, he was already dealing with an injury before he even signed with the team, and dealt with several more, or complications from previous injuries, throughout his rookie season. He hardly played at all, and after the year realized that he tried to come back too soon.
He feels as though he is past all that now, however, and just ready to play football and be productive for his team, and spring workouts were a good start toward that end, impressing his teammates and coaches with what he is capable of becoming, even if he is not yet there.
“He’s really got that elite speed and quickness and he can catch the ball”, Bengals wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell said. “He can catch the ball as well as anybody in drills. When he’s running right at me where you can really judge how he reaches and catches it, he frames it perfectly. He just needs to be more consistent, but he’s an impressive guy”.
Consistency is often what separates players such as him who have elite traits from being legitimate players to flashes in the pan. His college tape suggests that he can be that legitimate player, the true counterpoint to A.J. Green the team has been looking for.
“I want to be a problem for other teams”, he said. “That’s kind of what I’m going for”. And Bengals beat writer Geoff Hobson described one such instance in which he exhibited that ability.
During a third-and-five scenario this spring, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor sent him on a drag route against William Jackson III, a fellow first-round talent and perhaps the second-fastest player on the team. Ross won, turned the corner, and got the first down.
“In a game situation that probably could have been a touchdown”, he said afterward. “When I get routes like that and I see the coverage and I know I’m one-on-one, I get to showcase my speed, especially against someone fast like that”.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have yet to get an opportunity to face Ross, but they should this year. The Bengals figure to have a pair of first-round picks and a second-rounder as their top three receivers, provided that they all rise to the top of the depth chart, that second-round pick being Tyler Boyd, who knocked the Baltimore Ravens out of the playoffs at the last second in 2017.