CINCINNATI — You’ve got to like the Bengals’ first-round pick for one reason: They got a guy who is going to be fun to watch.
John Ross, the wide receiver from Washington, ran the fastest 40-yard dash ever recorded at the NFL Combine — 4.22 seconds. That more than anything is why the Bengals used the ninth pick to select him.
Ross’ speed will make it much more difficult to double team A.J. Green. His speed will make it much more difficult to put seven or eight players in the box. And his speed will make it much more enjoyable to watch the Bengals.
It’s always hard to judge a draft pick on the day of the pick. A cottage industry has developed around evaluating the draft. Most draft analysts have one thing in common — they’re always convinced they’re right. Are they? Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick.
So don’t let the Mel Kipers of the world turn you off to this pick. The draft will play out over time. But it’s certain that Ross is going to be more fun to watch than Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allen or O.J. Howard, the Alabama trio that was higher on draft boards.
“When you watch, it’s play after play after play that he has an opportunity to make plays with the ball in his hands,” Lewis said, “whether it’s inside slants or what we call the lightning plays. When you’re playing against him, you feel his speed.
The other side of that is you’ve got to respect Ross’ speed so much that affects the defense, even on run downs.
“If we are successful — like we know we’re going to be — at throwing the ball over the top of defense,” offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said, “we’ll get better looks to run and less guys in there we have to knock out of there. That’s a very simple way of looking at it. But it’s a realistic look at it.”
Ross is happy to be a Bengal.
“My head almost came off my shoulders,” Ross said of getting the call. “I was very excited.”
Ross had a huge game against Adoree Jackson, a cornerback from Southern Cal who was 18th pick in the draft, catching eight passes for 154 yards and a touchdown.
“What was impressive was his ability to drive him off and have separation and make plays,” Lewis said.
Bengals receiver coach James Urban coached in Philadelphia when DeSean Jackson developed into a Pro Bowl receiver. Jackson and Ross are both from Long Beach, Calif.
“There are comparisons,” Urban said. “They’re both a little under-sized. They both have great speed and game-breaking ability. They’ve worked out together. Desean reached out. The thing about both of them is they're both football players. Take size away, take speed away, at the end of the day, they’re football players. That’s what really attracted us to John.”
> Ross caught 81 balls for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns last year for Washington. He averaged 24.2 yards per kickoff returns. Ross played after the fifth game with a torn labrum.
He says he has to fight the label of the speed guy.
“I definitely do,” Ross said. “I feel like I fight that every single day. People don’t believe in me. I revert back to the film. A lot of my touchdowns were in the red zone. Teams took away the deep ball. We have to convert a lot of our routes. It made me hone in more on immediate routes.”
He only ran track one year in the high school.
“I didn’t like running,” he said. “They had us out there running for no reason.”
The reason Ross runs now is to get open. To do that, you have to run more than just straight ahead.
“The thing that jumps out at you is his ability to separate laterally,” Zampese said. “In the red zone, when cornerbacks pressed, his ability to go sideways as fast as he goes vertical really helped him.”
Ross also checked the character box.
“When you meet him, the character stands out quite a bit,” Zampese said. “You see him fitting with the rest of the guys and molding into our unit. He has the things we’re looking for character-wise, the work ethic. He’s battled back from injuries. He’s lived on the top. He’s been all places. We really like him.
The two knocks on Ross are his size and injury history. He’s 5-foot-10 3/4, 188 pounds.
Ross played cornerback as a sophomore. “He’s shown his toughness all the way through,” Lewis said.
Said Ross: “I compete. That’s very imperative. I have to work on physicality, of course. It was hard to do that last year with my labrum tear. Now, I get to be that physical guy again.”
As for the injuries? “If you can jump through the hoops and pass our medical, you’re pretty good,” Lewis said. “It’s not a concern once they pass him and he’s on that board.”
Ross said he’ll be cleared by July.
Again, Ross will be fun to watch.
“He’s effective with the ball in his hands,” Urban said. “He makes plays with the ball in hands. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re looking for — play-makers to help us win games.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.