Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross had a rookie season plagued by injuries. Can he cancel out the noise and prove his full potential in 2018?
Wide receiver John Ross was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals ninth overall in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Washington. He made the top ten of the draft with his outstanding combine performance showing off his explosive speed. Ross had a shoulder injury that he was recovering from when the Bengals drafted him and injuries plagued his rookie season.
During his rookie year, Ross failed to catch a single pass for quarterback Andy Dalton in his insufficient time on the field. He received one handoff in which he fumbled. After such a miserable rookie season when being selected ninth overall the year before, this season the noise and pressure will be even louder as many fans have already written him off.
Star wide receiver A.J. Green told the media at voluntary workouts that he was impressed with Ross coming into camp. The way he worked out this offseason with other receivers including former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and how explosive he looked in camp. Houshmandzadeh talked about how it was all about getting his confidence back.
Ross has unbelievable potential and talent but whether he will be able to unlock it in 2018 is a question mark on how he will deal with all of the pressure. According to Ross, Green has pulled him to the side during camp and told him to calm down, relax, and be himself. Overthinking is when he makes mistakes. It will be interesting to see how Ross does when lined up against the defense for the first time next Tuesday.
Ross is not the only receiver to struggle during his rookie season for the Bengals, but the ninth overall selection makes the expectations higher. Regardless, having a bad rookie season doesn’t mean he will be a bust his second season. Former Bengals star wide receiver Chad Johnson only had 28 catches on 60 targets for 329 yards and a single touchdown his rookie season. We can also look at what cornerback William Jackson III did last season after an injury kept him out all of his rookie season and say, why can’t Ross do the same this year?
It’s going to come down to John Ross drowning out the noise and just playing the game. We know that he has the talent to be great in the NFL, but he has to unlock it. If Ross can’t get out of his head this year, he will tank the season for himself. That noise and injury got to Ross last season.
"“Last year I let everything get to me.” Ross says. “I let my injury get to me. I was trying to do more than I could. I was out of shape. I’m not trying to make excuses, but its real life things. You can’t just come in the NFL and be that guy. You have to come in and prepare. I’ve learned that. It’s growth and progression from here on.”"
Head coach Marvin Lewis didn’t exactly hold back when talking about his disappointment last year. Lewis expressed on multiple occasions to the media about what Ross was doing wrong. While that is going to be expected at the next level, it also adds to the pressure. Now it’s all about just getting it done on the field with zero excuses.
Ross will resume his workouts with Houshmandzadeh in June. This offseason wasn’t the first time they had talked or worked out together as Houshmandzadeh helped Ross get ready for college football as well. Part of what makes these workouts important is the confidence that Houshmandzadeh puts in Ross. When it comes to Ross, confidence is what will make or break him this season.
"“T.J. is the most confident guy I’ve ever met in my life. I can say that with a straight face,” Ross says. “That first day we met I felt like I knew him my whole life. He doesn’t think he could still be a third receiver in the NFL. He believes it.”"
I believe that Ross is the biggest boom or bust player for the Bengals this season. It all depends on where his confidence is at and if he can get out of his own head. Green and Brandon LaFell have both seen improvements when Ross doesn’t think about everything he is doing when he is doing it. If he can stay out of his own head this season, we could be talking about one of the best groups of playmakers between Green, Tyler Eifert, Ross, and Joe Mixon. If he can’t, well it will be another year of LaFell opposite of Green.