Everyone remembers the day when John Ross broke the NFL 40-yard dash record by running it in 4.22 seconds, beating out Chris Johnson’s previous record of 4.24 seconds. The Bengals, who were definitely enamored by the prospect of his speed opposite of A.J. Green, took a shot on him with the 9th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Since then, however, Ross has been quiet.
Ross’ rookie year was a disaster. It was clear something was wrong, as Marvin Lewis never let him on the field, and the one time he did, it was a jet sweep that ended in a fumble. Ross virtually never saw the field after that. His second season, still under Lewis, was slightly better. But, once again, Ross hardly saw the field.
2017 Stats (3 games): 0 catches, 1 rush (12 yards)
2018 Stats (13 games): 21 catches, 210 yards, 7 touchdowns
The 7 touchdown figure is what really stands out. The potential is clearly there with Ross, as one-third of his catches went for touchdowns in his 2nd season. However, being the speedster he is, you expect more than 10 yards per catch. Contrary to what you would think, Ross was actually a tremendous red zone threat in his 2nd season, but not a deep threat. The reason for this? Misuse and a lack of confidence.
The 2019 season saw massive changes in the Bengals organization, as Marvin Lewis was on his way out and Zac Taylor and his staff were taking over. The arrival of Taylor, an offensive-minded coach, gave everyone hope for a breakout season from John Ross, and boy, did he deliver. Ross broke out in the very first game of the season against the Seattle Seahawks.
Unfortunately, his breakout campaign didn’t last. As has been common during his young career, Ross was injured and miss a decent chunk of the season. However, he still put up great numbers compared to his first two seasons.
2019 Stats (8 games): 28 catches, 506 yards, 3 touchdowns
John Ross’ 5th year option came up recently, and was expectedly declined. While Ross did play very well last season, there is still uncertainty regarding his long term ability and health. The belief has to be that if Ross can put up big numbers and play most of the 2020 season, he will receive a contract extension. If he gets injured or regresses, expect the Bengals to let him walk like they did with Tyler Eifert.
While he still struggles occasionally with drops and miscues, his confidence is way up. That can be attributed to the different coaching style of Zac Taylor. Taylor knows how to utilize his players and keep their confidence up; unlike Marvin Lewis, Taylor isn’t going to sit out a player because he has fixable mistakes. Taylor will let them play and work out their issues, especially in a lost season like last year.
Another season building chemistry with the coaching staff should be great for Ross, but let’s not forget Joe Burrow is coming to town. Andy Dalton had a bad habit of blatantly missing deep throws. This is a problem that is virtually nonexistent with Burrow, as his touch and accuracy is unprecedented. When John Ross gets loose, it should be fully expected that Burrow will be able to hit him in stride.
All in all, John Ross should continue to breakout in the 2020 season. All the right pieces are there: an improved quarterback, better chemistry with the coaching staff, and increased confidence. If the 2020 season goes poorly, it will be safe to call Ross a bust, but he can also use the season to prove why he was worth the 9th overall pick. I fully expect Ross to have great season and earn a contract extension, assuming he doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Tyler Eifert and succumb to the injury bug yet again.