Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross has a lot to prove coming into the 2018 season after rarely contributing in his rookie season.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a track record of the first-round draft picks either being drafted with an injury or sustaining an injury before the season starts. 2017 first round pick wide receiver John Ross out of Washington is another player that fits in that category. The question this year for Ross, can he replicate what cornerback William Jackson III did in his second year.
Jackson was a first-round draft pick that much like Ross was confusing for Cincinnati fans. Already having cornerbacks like Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick on the roster, proven cornerbacks, fans were not thrilled with the team grabbing another cornerback in the first round with other pressing needs. There were a significant amount of fans that wanted the team to draft a wide receiver, but unfortunately, most of the top wide receivers were off the board at the time Cincinnati’s pick came around.
To make things worse, Jackson suffered a torn pectoral muscle during camp that resulted in him spending his rookie season on Injured Reserve. Jackson already had plenty to prove as he was a first-round pick that fans didn’t agree with, but missing his entire rookie season due to an injury like fans have seen time and time again. He proved his worth last season with his breakout season as one of the top shutdown cornerbacks in the league.
While only starting in five games during the 2017 season, Jackson took advantage of every opportunity he was given to prove that he is a top cornerback in this league. He ended the season with the third most snaps of the Bengals secondary as he gained more playing time as the season went along. Asking to cover top wide receivers, Jackson showed he could hang with the best in the game including Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. While matched up with Brown in the two meetings last season, Brown was targeted seven times and hauled in 0 of them with Jackson breaking up four of them.
Opposing quarterbacks took notice of Jackson as the season went along and started avoiding him almost entirely. His speed, instincts, and ball skills helped him prove that he belongs in the talk about top cornerbacks. Now fans are raving about Jackson going into the 2018 season as he confirmed that he was worth the first round pick in 2016.
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Now the question is, can John Ross do the same thing on the other side of the ball. The NFL combine superstar was called a reach by many fans, and after the shoulder issues in 2017, many fans have already written him off as a bust. Cincinnati needs a wide receiver to put opposite playmaker A.J. Green, and Ross will have his shot to prove that is him.
When the Bengals drafted Ross, they had hopes that his speed would get separation over the top and help better their passing game down the field. It would also force defenses to respect him enough not to allow them to stack over Green on the other side. His senior year proved his abilities at Washington when he caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Ross has worked hard over the offseason to get healthy and ready for the 2018 season. He has worked with other receivers from around the league but the most notable being his work with former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The former Bengals receiver had plenty to say about Ross following their workouts this offseason.
"“I’m trying to get him to believe in himself unconditionally,” Houshmandzadeh says.Because he says the kid has it all. Yes. Ross, the fastest man ever to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting, is as advertised, he says. Houshmandzadeh says his initial burst off the line is elite and reminds him of another Bengals seventh-round wide receiver, LSU’s Bennie Brazell, an Olympic hurdler.“The quarterback says, ‘Set-hut,’ and he’s gone,” Houshmandzadeh says. “He’s not just fast. He’s quick. He’s got good lateral quickness. And he’s got some size. He’s bigger than you think. He’s 5-11 and has to be 190 (pounds). He’s short, but he’s not small. He’s got some thickness to him. “"
Houshmandzadeh worked with Ross on his clean route running to take him to the next level. His speed will not get him to his full potential in the NFL, and if he can take what he learned from Houshmandzadeh this offseason and translate it to the field, we could see an explosive player for quarterback Andy Dalton to throw to. Cincinnati ranked last in yards per game last season, and Ross is one of the players that could turn that stat around and get them into the top 10 in yards. Even Green has taken notice of Ross and how much he has accomplished this offseason.
"“He’s got his confidence back,” Green said. “The way he’s working this offseason is unbelievable. He’s healthy and explosive again.”"
I’m one of the few people that believe John Ross will prove his first-round selection this offseason. I think that Ross has a chip on his shoulder and will use that to propel him in Cincinnati’s new offense in 2018. He will be a part of helping get this offense back to its 2015 form. If Ross has a good season, the rest of the offense will open up as well. Forcing teams to respect the deep ball while not being able to stack on one player and open up the running game as well.