Once a top 10 pick in the draft, John Ross has become an afterthought in the Cincinnati offense.
Through no real fault of his ability, the former Washington Husky has spent nearly half of his career watching from the sideline. In three-plus seasons, Ross has seen action in just 25 of 49 games. First, it was a meniscus. Then it was his meniscus and his ACL. Then he tore his labrum twice and followed that up with two groin strains. After that, he topped it all off with a sprained A/C joint in his shoulder.
Needless to say, it’s been a long road of physical trauma for the former ninth overall pick. And in the past two seasons, he’s shown flashes of what made him so attractive out of college. Breakaway speed (4.22-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine), and an ability to find the end zone. For those two seasons, Ross tallied 49 receptions for 716 yards and 10 touchdowns. His catch percentage was a pedestrian 43 percent, but he was battling injuries throughout.
But he was pretty good in 2019.
In eight games last season, Brown saw career-highs in receptions (28), yards (506), yards-per-reception (18.1), yards-per-game (63.3), and receptions resulting in a first down (22). Couple the latter number with his three touchdowns, and you have 89.3 percent of his receptions resulting in a first down or a touchdown.
Mind you, this is all without A.J. Green for the Bengals. Coupled with consecutive 100-yard games to start the season and another six-reception game in Week 16. Flashes of brilliance.
Thus, signaling the entrance of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
The Patriots may have won against Miami in Week 1, but their passing attack was next to non-existent. Yes, Cam Newton was surgical in his 19 pass attempts, but he only accumulated 155 yards through the air––thanks to a couple of things.
Lack of personnel at wide receiver
The Patriots entered play on Sunday with a wide receiver room of Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Damiere Byrd, and Jakobi Meyers. While everyone knows the kind of player Edelman can be, he was on the field for just 37 snaps. Harry and Byrd both saw north of 50, but only the former saw any targets (six). Byrd was used as an essential decoy, and Meyers only saw seven snaps.
Official Patriots offensive snaps:— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 14, 2020
🏈 Ryan Izzo unsung at TE (all but 1 snap).
🏈 Sixth-round pick Mike Onwenu contributes as eligible TE (4) and backup right tackle (18)
🏈 WR Julian Edelman gets eased in behind N’Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd. pic.twitter.com/SAC11ykIfw
New England was able to repeatedly gash Miami on the ground, so they got away with this. However, when it comes time to make plays through the air, do the Patriots have what it takes to out-gun teams? The answer is no.
Lack of yards-after-catch (YAC) ability
It’s too soon to pass any real judgment on N’Keal Harry, but through 17 receptions he’s only averaging 3.9 YAC per-reception in his NFL career. As for Edelman, his YAC per-reception between last season and Week 1 is just 3.3.
What this shows is that the Patriots may have been able to move the ball on offense, but not much was done post-reception. As a result, it puts a lot of pressure on Newton to make up for it.
Thus leaving us with a couple of complex questions to answer: How does John Ross solve these problems? What would draw New England to him?
Even when Gunner Olszewski returns, there just isn’t enough talent within that five-man room to go to war every Sunday. As previously mentioned, we know what kind of player Edelman is. However, we also know how prone to injury he can be. Even when he plays a full 16-game season, you always feel the need to say “Wow. He gutted that one out.”
Not to mention the uncertainty behind him. When you combine Harry, Byrd, Meyers, and Olszewski’s career receptions, you get just 89 receptions. Eighty-nine receptions across 62 games. That’s simply not going to cut it.
While Ross has grown to learn the ins and outs of the injured reserve in his career, he helps solve that depth problem. Even providing a bit of stability when he’s out there.
Belichick has been burned on his last three serious decisions at wide receiver. Mohamed Sanu cost him a second-round pick and got cut before this season began. Antonio Brown lasted just 11 days in Foxboro before his off-field antics got him released. N’Keal Harry, though too soon to tell, has left a lot to be desired in New England. Especially given the value of where he was drafted (32nd overall).
Ross is slated to be a free agent at season’s end and has just 51 receptions across 25 career games. With Cincinnati looking to rebuild, and Ross likely not being apart of their next great team, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him on the move. Even though he was the ninth overall pick back in 2017, the value for acquiring him is presumably low. Why not take a flier on him if he’s only going to cost you a late-round pick?
Could John Ross have untapped potential?
As previously mentioned, he was the ninth pick back in 2017. While his injuries have essentially ruined his chances to make a big pay-day this offseason, he has shown flashes of brilliance.
Before getting hurt a season ago, Ross had 16 receptions for 328 yards (20.5 per-reception) and three touchdowns. There’s no question the speed and the ability exist, it’s just a matter of keeping him on the field.
Could settling in as the third option in New England help him resurrect his career? Perhaps.
John Ross solves the YAC problem
As previously mentioned, neither Harry nor Edelman––presumptive top two receivers––have a YAC per-reception above 4.0 through the last 17 games. Ross, on the other hand, is averaging 6.7.
Thanks in large part to his legs that were highly regarded coming out of college, Ross is able to create plays after the catch. Whether that be out-running the defensive back, making a man miss, or being able to break away for the score.
While Ross isn’t going to command top-two targets on the team, he very well could have a Chris Hogan-like effect on the offense. Churn and burn, using his speed to get open.
The New England Patriots are in a transitioning process. For 20 years, there was next to zero mobility at the quarterback position. Replacing that regime with that of Newton causes for some turnover. They may not be Super Bowl-ready, but they can make some noise in the AFC this year if Newton is given the necessary tools to succeed.
That all starts with getting a player the likes of Ross. Don’t just let a team like the Packers go out and get him, further hurting your chances at eternal glory in 2020.
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