Name: John Ross III
Class: Redshirt Junior
Weight: 190 lb
Games Watched: 2016 – vs Colorado, vs Stanford, vs Arizona
Overview: Grew up in Long Beach, California. Was a high school star and a four-star recruit for Washington. Broke out in 2016, recording 76 catches for 1,112 yards with 17 receiving touchdowns over 13 games. Won AP’s Pac-12 player of the year award, and was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection. Missed the 2015 season due to injury, and has a substantial injury history, with both knees having been surgically repaired. Broke the record for the fastest 40 yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine.
Uhh, he’s fast. You might have read about that. I know a deep-threat receiver being fast isn’t news, but Ross plays the speed he ran at the Combine. That’s important – sometimes a speed merchant isn’t consistent, but Ross is. The wrinkle with Ross is – he’s not totally one-dimensional. He has route-running acumen, and Washington used him regularly on plenty of flats and slants, with fairly good results.
He’s also adept at selling stop routes. This depends on two things: 1) his speed being a known threat that forces defensive backs onto the back foot, and 2) good footwork, and strong change-of-direction skills. Ross used this to great effect in the Arizona game.
In general, his speed and footwork mean he’s a multi-purpose weapon. Though he was only okay returning kickoffs in the games I saw, he pulled off a lovely little end around at one point against Arizona, and given his route-running ability, his versatility should keep him on teams a long time, potentially even after his speed starts to fade in later years.
Another interesting thing is how often he draws defensive PI flags. Ross drew one big call in each of the three games I watched, and it’d be interesting to see how he managed across the season. Certainly it seemed like causing defenders to panic that drew flags; what’s interesting is guessing how much of that is on Ross, and how much on the defense.
Well, he’s not going to block, if that’s what you want from a deep threat (it’s not). And as you’d expect, he’s not the most physical receiver, so don’t expect him to stuff the yards-after-contact statsheet. And if whoever drafts him is going to put him in tight spots against physical defensive backs, that could show up. Akhello Witherspoon had a lot of fun deflecting and harrying Ross in coverage, and while that’s down to scheming, it’s also a neat demonstration of his limitations.
I was really hoping Ross wasn’t just going to be the fast-guy-with-inconsistent hands. He’s not, but teams will knock him for his hands. The Colorado game was a case in point – at one point he made a fantastic one handed circus catch from a wildly-thrown, desperately-escaping-pressure throw by Browning. He reeled it in, then set off into space. Great! Unfortunately, he dropped a couple too. That will be worked on in the NFL, especially as some drops were down to hand placement more than concentration, but he’s not as sure-handed as some.
As I said in my piece earlier this week, John Ross is not a one-dimensional speedster who’ll flame out and die in the league. He’s a savvy football player with rare speed and great footwork, already well-versed in some of the non-physical aspects teams will look for. The hands worry me a little, and what more physical corners could do to him does too. You can also wonder whether teams might be worried about his health generally – he’s been plagued by injuries throughout college, and has had operations on both knees already, and has shoulder surgery scheduled too.
I’m aware of my bias in receivers for valuing possession over speed. So I understand that my grade will be a touch lower than many others. Nonetheless, I think he’ll be an at-times frustrating player who produces big games sometimes, and rarely gets involved on others. Not a banker for your fantasy team, but a potential game-breaking piece for your actual team.
In terms of comparisons, DeSean Jackson leaps out, as do Brandin Cooks (though he finds it a notch tougher than Cooks to get open), and Will Fuller (with considerably better hands). Torrey Smith is a decent comparison too – he in his Baltimore days is the only other deep threat I’ve seen consistently draw PI penalties with this much reliability. A rough average of those players’ draft spots seems fair, especially given those health worries.
Grade: Early second round