Fay: Bengals' top pick John Ross combines humility, maturity with athletic freakishness

Similar to Reds' top choice Greene
Posted at 6:53 PM, Jun 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-13 18:53:34-04

CINCINNATI -- When you’re drafting players, it’s a good idea to pick the guys who can do things physically that mere mortals can’t.

The Reds did that when they picked Hunter Greene with the second pick in the MLB Draft Monday. Greene can throw a baseball 102 mph. No one else in the draft could do that.

The Bengals did the same thing back in April when they picked receiver John Ross with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft. Ross can run a 4.19 40-yard dash. No one else in the draft could do that.

When you draft a guy with rare physical talent who also gets it mentally and has good character, you really have something. 

That’s what I thought Monday when I heard Greene on the conference call with reporters. And that’s what I witnessed Tuesday when I was in the Ross media scrum prior to his first day on the job.

In both cases, it remains to be seen whether the clubs made the right picks. But in both cases, the picks came off as confident but humble and acutely aware that life does not begin and end with the game they play. 

I chronicled this in a column on Greene Monday

Ross seems to get it as well. He was unable to participate in the OTAs (organized teams activities) because a rule prevents players from schools on the quarter system from doing so.

That delayed his real immersion into pro football until Tuesday -- the first day of mandatory minicamp.

But Ross didn’t hang around his apartment at the University of Washington or head home to Long Beach, California. He finished up his degree and studied the Bengals playbook in his spare time.

Ross didn’t like missing the OTAs, but under the circumstances, it wasn't bad.

“I was able to go to class and be distracted by something other than working out and sitting around all day,” he said. “I had homework. I had family things. There were a lot of things I had to do, so it just wasn’t me sitting around.” 

He graduated Saturday with a degree in American Ethnic Studies (similar to sociology, he said).

“It was probably bigger than getting drafted, in my opinion,” he said. “I feel like it’s something you can’t have taken away from you. That was for my family. I was the first generation in my family (to graduate college).

“It was pretty big for me. I feel like I’ve been playing football my whole life. You never know what can happen with that.”

It meant something to his new employer as well.

“We’re certainly proud of John for graduating,” wide receivers coach James Urban said. “The rule is the rule. He wouldn’t be here anyway. It’s an easier pill for me to swallow if he actually graduates.”

Ross celebrated with a family dinner Saturday. He flew to Cincinnati Sunday -- ready to begin the new job.

“As soon as they handed me my degree, I was ready to fly,’’ he said. “I was excited to get started.”

He got a head start while finishing up his classes.

“I had the playbook already,” he said. “So it wouldn’t be so foreign to me when I got here.”

“He worked diligently,” Urban said. “He and I have communicated throughout the process while he was balancing his schoolwork and exams and papers. He did a great job of looking at the material and familiarizing himself.

“He’s a got a lot of catching up to do, but he’s done the groundwork to put him in the right direction.”

Ross knows what he’s in for.

“It’s a lot of new stuff,” he said. “It’s a little different from what we got to see at rookie minicamp. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve got to learn. It’s a long process... I wouldn’t call it hard. Our coaches do a great job of regurgitating the material back to me. The veterans are helping me. It’s as hard as I thought it’d be.”

Ross did not fully participate in drills Tuesday. He’s still recovering from January shoulder surgery, so installation of the package the Bengals will tailor for him hasn’t begun yet.

“This is Day 1,” he said. “You never know. At the end of the day, I still have to work to show them I’m the player they hope I am.”



John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at