Make-Or-Break Year: Bengals WR John Ross

In 2017, the Bengals had the No. 9 overall pick and two clear top needs. First, there was the defensive end position, where they were hoping to upgrade from Michael Johnson after another so-so season. They were also out to find a young and athletic wide receiver to help take the pressure off of A.J. Green. John Ross, who wowed scouts with a 4.22-second 40-yard-dash time, fit the bill at WR, though many figured the Bengals would trade down to take him.

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Instead, they stood pat and used their top pick to take Ross. At the time, many said that it was a reach – the Washington product’s speed was undeniably impressive, but his medical history was extensive. In 2015, he tore his ACL and missed the entire season. And, after his impressive combine showing, he underwent labrum surgery. In short, evaluators loved him, but most viewed him as a one-contract player rather than a long-term investment.

So far, Ross hasn’t done much to prove the critics wrong. In three pro seasons, Ross has played a grand total of 24 games. At times, when healthy and on the field, he’s dazzled. Ross looked like a monster in the making after is Week 1 performance against the Seahawks last year, going off for seven catches, 158 yards, and two scores. In Week 2 against the 49ers, he topped 100 yards once again, and he did it with just four receptions. After that, Ross missed all of October and November due to injury and did not post another 100-yard game.

As expected, the Bengals declined Ross’ fifth-year option in May, turning down a one-year, $15.68MM add-on that would have guaranteed his 2021 season for injury. Even more concerning for Ross’ Cincinnati future, the club used the first pick of the second round to select Tee Higgins, who is fresh off of a ~1,200-yard season at Clemson. The Bengals haven’t quite written Ross off, but they’re not planning around him either.

With one year left on Ross’ original rookie contract, the story on him is roughly the same as it was three years ago – Ross has the speed and skills to dominate the league, but he has not been able to stay healthy and put it all on display. Ross can cash in as a free agent (with the Bengals or one of the league’s other 31 teams) if he turns in a full and productive season, but he’ll also have to maintain his place in the pecking order. If the majority of Joe Burrow‘s targets go to Green, Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, Ross won’t have much of an opportunity to showcase himself.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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10 comments on “Make-Or-Break Year: Bengals WR John Ross

  1. JJB0811

    It’s always fun to call the 1st round pick, let alone a high end one, a bust. While completely ignoring the owner, GM, scouting department and about 50 other people who say ‘draft him!’. Who is the real bust; 1 player, or an entire division of a business/franchise?

    I’m glad Ross made his coin and hope he heals up fine.

    • wagner13

      It kind of reminds me of Heyward-Bey with the Raiders. Taken way too early after most experts considered him a fringe first-rounder and ultimately had difficulty living up to expectations. We can blame Al Davis and his infatuation with athletic prospects for that one

    • jkoms57

      Never know he could end up like Ted Ginn and have a long career as a mediocre deep threat.

      Ginn was a bust once too , but teams always need speed.

      • jkoms57

        I agree. Plenty of haters but anyone with a pair of eyes can see Joe is something special

  2. JohnTheSportsFanatic

    I feel bad for this guy dude. He really does have the talent, as shown by the performances that were listed. It’s just his body just will not cooperate.

    • braveshomer

      sometimes guys are literally too fast or strong for their own body to handle…he’s been a prime example of that

      • wagner13

        Yeah, that seems to be an issue around the MLB with bombers such as Stanton and Judge. They seem to be more susceptible to muscle strain and core tightness

  3. bravesfan88
    bravesfan88

    With a good medical staff, and a different system Ross could have been a legit 1-2 option..

    He needs to add a little muscle, get fully healthy, and then just ball out with Burrow. Ross is an extremely talented player. He just has to stay healthy. His best years are still ahead of him, and I certainly wouldn’t bet against this kid having a breakout year!!

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