NFL Draft Profile: John Ross
If you didn’t know who John Ross was before the NFL Combine, you probably know who he is now. Ross announced his presence with an exclamation point in Indianapolis by setting the 40-Yard Dash record with a scorching mark of 4.22 seconds. While he famously missed out on his chance to own a private island, Mr. Ross should be doing just fine after he hears his name called on the first night of the NFL Draft.Ross, standing 5’11 and weighing in at just under 190 lbs., certainly proved his elite speed at the University of Washington. He proved to be a jack-of-all-trades for the Huskies in his first two seasons, scoring a rushing TD, five receiving TDs, and three return TDs. Demonstrating his tremendous athleticism, Ross also played on the defensive side of the ball, logging an interception in his sophomore campaign. However, most of this promise was derailed when Ross missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. After injuring his left knee in 2015, Ross was primed for a comeback in 2016 and delivered on all of the potential he flashed in his first two seasons. In 14 games, Ross was named as a 2nd Team All-American, catching 81 balls for 1,150 yards and 17 TDs. He asserted himself as one of the nation’s best receivers, the fastest man in college football, and a legitimate pro prospect.
At the combine, Ross broke Chris Johnson’s 40-yard Dash record of 4.24 by topping him with a sweltering 4.22 pace. He also was a top performer in the Broad Jump, where he logged a leap of 11 feet, 1 inch. His measurables took him from a being a late first round option to arguably the top WR off the board.
In watching Ross’ film, he certainly does pop off the screen. His 4.22 speed is blatantly evident on the field, as he runs past secondary members with ease, making them look like they’re stuck in quicksand. Ross looks especially impressive when running under routes and when he can get the ball in space. His feet are quick, explosive, and decisive, often leaving defenders without a body to tackle. Not to mention, he has tremendous body awareness, allowing him to make great sideline catches and get his feet down in bounds. Furthermore, his top-end speed is on display when Ross runs seams, posts, and go routes. Oftentimes, he’ll create multiple yards of separation between himself and the nearest defender. Even more impressive, Ross is skilled in his ball-tracking ability, often adjusting to deep balls that are off target and hauling them in with grace. These factors combine to produce a great recipe for success in the downfield passing game. I believe that in time, he will find his way back to the outside. However, in the beginning, he could get acclimated to the pro game by working out of the slot. By doing so, he will be able to set himself up for crossing routes underneath and create separation and space—something that will make him widely effective.
However, Ross’ talents come with some weaknesses. At 5’11 and under 190 lbs., the speedster might find himself smaller than many NFL cornerbacks, causing him to get jammed at the line of scrimmage, slowing him down in the process. Furthermore, Ross’ film showed his propensity to use his body to catch balls. By not extending his arms reflexively, he might find himself struggling to reel in contested balls. NFL corners will undoubtedly have better cover abilities than Ross saw in the Pac-12, leading to many more 50/50 balls. Therefore, he will need to improve his pass catching abilities to be a real elite talent. Additionally, he has limited experience, having only started one full season at Washington. It will be interesting to see how Ross conforms to the pace of an NFL game and elite-level defenses. Let’s not forget, when faced with the elite Alabama defense in the College Football Playoff Semifinal game this past December, Ross only accrued 28 yards on 5 catches, yielding a costly fumble in the process. Was this game a fluke? Or an indication of things to come for Ross?
Ross will certainly be in the conversation to be the first receiver taken in the draft. However, I value him below Mike Williams (Clemson) and Corey Davis (Western Michigan)—players that, I feel, carry a safer floor and less risk for a team looking for that franchise, #1 wideout.
Potential suitors litter the first round. However, three teams jump off the paper to me as potential landing spots for Ross. The Philadelphia Eagles recently hosted Ross for a visit, and see him as a potential second coming of DeSean Jackson. When paired with the big-bodied Alshon Jeffery and a more experienced Jordan Matthews, Ross could thrive and provide Carson Wentz with a game-breaking downfield option. This offseason, the Baltimore Ravens lost veteran Steve Smith Sr. to retirement, and Kamar Aiken to Free Agency, leaving Mike Wallace as the lone established receiver on the roster. Joe Flacco could certainly use another weapon if the Ravens want to take the next step this year.
So where will he end up? Ross has often been connected to the Tennessee Titans, a team that is in dire need of a playmaker in their receiving corps (which currently consists of Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe.) Marcus Mariota took a huge leap forward last season, becoming one of the more effective downfield passers in the NFL. His 7.6 yards per attempt ranked ahead of the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. Apparently, Ross’ speed and playmaking ability would mesh seamlessly with Mariota’s newfound desire to throw the ball downfield. The Titans have two picks in the top 20, but are also in dire need of help on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the secondary. I suspect they’ll take the best available defender with the #5 overall pick (Lattimore, Allen, and Adams are all in play), and pair them with Ross at #18 to fill two major holes on their roster.
Could the Titans nab Corey Davis or Mike Williams instead? Sure they could. Could Ross go to the Eagles at #14 or the Ravens at #16? Absolutely. But, when it’s all said and done, my gut tells me he’ll be gracing the turf of Nissan Stadium in Nashville, catching passes from another former Pac-12 superstar, and helping the young Titans take their first big step back into the limelight.