2019 is a new year, a new beginning for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross, a 2017 top-10 pick. He’s got a new head coach, with a new offensive coordinator. He’s even switching to a new number, hoping to make as much change as possible to change his fortunes as well as he comes off of two disappointing seasons to start his career.
As a rookie, he only dressed for three games, dealing with injuries for much of the year but also spending time as a healthy scratch. He was targeted a total of two times, never touching a pass, and got an end-around one time. The Combine 40-yard dash record holder gained 12 yards, but fumbled the ball.
Last season was different, but still disappointing. He played in 13 games and officially started 10, though his role was more limited than that would indicate. He only caught 21 of the 58 passes thrown his way. And you would think with his speed that would at least translate to a high yards per catch, but he only gained 210 yards. His saving grace that he did score on a third of his catches, finishing the season with seven touchdowns.
That was his life in the number 15 jersey. From now on, he will wear the number 11. He wore the number 1 in college. This is significant because a player has to buy out the remainder of his unsold jerseys before he can even be approved to officially change his number, so it’s not a decision made lightly, which he talked about with Paul Dehner, now with The Athletic.
As quoted by Pro Football Talk, he told Dehner, “it’s something I was passionate about. It’s not like I’m actually buying something that is useless or would throw away. I see it like somebody else purchasing like a diamond chain or something. I’m doing it based off something I really want. It’s actually, I do this for a living. It’s not like it’s a waste of money. It’s all planned out and something I wanted to do”.
Players do take their numbers quite seriously, or at least many of them do. As Ross said, it’s their job, and their number is a part of their identity. Players are sometimes referred to by their numbers. They associate with it not just for their job, but for the rest of their lives.
Just last year, we saw a number of switches with some departures making jerseys available. Joe Haden switched from 21 to his more familiar and comfortable 23. With 21 becoming available, Sean Davis switched from 28 to 21 to honor Sean Taylor. And then Mike Hilton took the 28 that he wore in college, moving on from 31.