CINCINNATI - The Bengals found a running mate for A.J. Green in the first round of the NFL draft, passing on several highly-rated defensive players to take speedy receiver John Ross from Washington.
For the second time in three years, Cincinnati drafted a player in the first round who is coming off surgery. Ross set an NFL combine record by running a 4.22-second 40-yard dash, then had surgery for a torn labrum. The Bengals expect him to be ready for the start of the season.
Marvin on Ross health: his only question mark. should be ready to go about the start of the season. @WCPO
— Keenan Singleton (@KJMSingleton) April 28, 2017
The last time the Bengals chose a receiver with their first pick was 2011, when they took Green fourth overall. Their offense crumbled last season after Green severely pulled a hamstring and missed six full games and most of one other, and the Bengals finished 6-9-1, missing out on the playoffs for the first time in six years.
TELL US: What do you think of Bengals' pick?
Now they've got another receiver who can force defenses to guard against the long pass, something they've wanted since receiver Marvin Jones left as a free agent following the 2015 season.
"It kind of balances the other side of the field," coach Marvin Lewis said. "When you're playing against him, people feel his speed."
This definitely gives the Bengals another dimension, a downfield threat. Should open things up for Eifert and AJ Green.@WCPO
— John Popovich WCPO (@Popo_WCPOSports) April 28, 2017
Two years ago, they took Cedric Ogbuehi with their first overall pick even though he was recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. He missed most of his rookie season and struggled at right tackle last year. The Bengals plan to move him to left tackle and replace Andrew Whitworth.
Cornerback William Jackson III missed his rookie season last year with a torn chest muscle.
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Ross tore the labrum in the fifth game last season but kept playing. He finished with 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns. Setting the record for the 40-yard dash at the combine brought him additional notice. Ross had surgery on both knees earlier in his career.
"I think it just got people to realize exactly how fast I am," Ross said during a conference call. "I definitely got more attention."
Ross has speed and talent. Now to that problem of your QB getting dropped on his butt 41 times last season. @WCPO
— Ken Broo (@kenbroo) April 28, 2017
He got the Bengals' attention late in the draft process. They invited him to Paul Brown Stadium after his surgery, the last team to invite him to get to know the coaching staff. He felt they hit it off right away.
"I got that vibe when I was there," he said. "I called my agent and told him how good I felt. I told him, 'Don't be surprised if the phone rings on draft day and it's the Bengals.'"
The Bengals took Tyler Boyd with their second pick last season. Brandon LaFell returns after finishing second behind Green in catches and yards.
Cincinnati is looking to upgrade a defense that had trouble getting pressure on the quarterback, especially in the first half of last season. The Bengals finished with their second-fewest sacks in the last eight years, released linebacker Rey Maualuga and let tackle Domata Peko leave as a free agent.
Lewis said there were several coveted defensive players left at the ninth pick because of how the round worked out. He said no other team was interested in trading for the ninth spot.
The Bengals will look for a pass rusher on the second day of the draft.
JOHN FAY: Why fans are going to like John Ross
The Bengals have 10 more picks – one in Rounds 2 and 3 Friday, and eight in the final four rounds on Saturday.
The Bengals have picks 41 and 73 on Friday and 116, 138, 153, 176, 193, 217, 227, 251 on Saturday.
The draft resumes at 7 p.m. Friday and at noon on Saturday.