Will Marvin Lewis give John Ross a shot in 2018

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross has much to prove in the second year of his career. Will he shake the bust label he’s been given?

After a gruesome rookie season for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross, he should have a chance to prove himself in 2018. Following his impressive NFL combine, the Bengals took Ross with the 9th overall pick in the 2017 draft. It’s been a consistent discussion whether head coach Marvin Lewis even wanted Ross to begin with as he has shown little interest in the young receiver.

Ross finished the season on injured reserve after only playing in three games totaling 17 snaps where he had zero receptions and fumbled on the one run play he was given the ball. There’s no arguing that it was a dreadful season for the former Washington receiver. Last seasons struggles could be a result of not being fully healthy at any point in the season and underprepared.

In March of 2017, Ross underwent surgery on his shoulder. He blamed his shortcomings on trying to rush back too soon before being ready and by the time he got to training camp he was out of shape. He mentioned that his body wasn’t in game shape and ready to take the beating again when talking with Lakisha Jackson of NFL Network.

“That was the problem. My body didn’t respond the way I wanted it to,” Ross said. “Coming in late, I didn’t get to train. I was out of shape. That was pretty tough on my body. Rushing into it. Being out of shape. My body couldn’t take the physical aspects of the game we do every day. I thought I could. I think it kind of wore me out faster than I thought. I really didn’t catch up until the end of the year when I started to have better practices. It all started to click together. It was already kind of too late. It was best to rest, get my body right.”

After being sent to injured reserve late in 2017, Ross underwent surgery on his other shoulder. With more time to recover this offseason, he should be ready to go for training camp and show up in better shape. When talking to NFL Network, Ross explained how he is excited for August to prove himself and get the opportunity to show that the Bengals taking him at number 9 overall was not a mistake.

“I’m looking forward to August. I don’t really care what the combine is talking about, I’ve been through a lot last year. But it’s a new year. A lot of new things coming. The emphasis from last year looks to be change.”

The real question is whether Lewis will give the young receiver an opportunity to prove himself. It seemed from the beginning that Ross was not on Lewis’ good side and as the season went on he found himself further and further away from getting his approval. Lewis showed his real beliefs when regarding Ross out in a press conference following the game against the Tennessee Titans when he called him out for quitting on a route.

“For Andy, against that coverage to throw him that football, he should understand how the quarterback feels about him,” Lewis said. “That he expects him to be where he needs to be. He let his teammates down. He let me down. He let Andy down.”

Putting last season in the rear view is much needed for Ross and finding his opportunity to prove Lewis wrong that he can play at a high level. He will be competing in camp with wide receiver Brandon LaFell who has held down the number two receiver spot the last two seasons. The aging veteran is a decent number two but nothing that gets you jumping off the couch.

Lewis is known for not playing his rookies often no matter the potential. Even Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap who were drafted in 2010 saw little playing time in their rookie years. There’s also the question of whether former offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was the one who wanted Ross and after being fired following week two new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor hadn’t found a way to use him yet.

It’s no secret that the Bengals franchise has been extremely conservative over the years. That includes the offensive playcalling since coordinators Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson left Cincinnati for head coaching jobs. Could giving Bill Lazor a full offseason to develop a full playbook for the offense and find a way to better utilize a healthy John Ross be the answer? If the Bengals want to become more aggressive on offense, the speed of Ross could be used to achieve that goal and become a deep threat that pulls defenses away from wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert.

With the Bengals offense being at the bottom of the league in multiple categories the last few years, they could use an explosive player like Ross was coming out of college. This offense needs a spark and a player with Ross’ potential could be the factor that takes it to the next level. He also could contribute to special teams as he returned four kickoffs in college.

I think it’s unfair to label Ross a failure or a bust after just 17 snaps when he wasn’t healthy. If Ross is given an actual chance by the coaching staff and is healthy going into training camp I see him taking over the number two role in 2018. If the Bengals don’t give him considerable snaps in 2018 then they are throwing away their 9th overall pick without giving the player an opportunity.