John Ross Can Improve a Struggling Bengals Offense

Ross was drafted by the Bengals with the ninth overall pick. How does he fit in the offense next season?

Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross finished as a semifinalist for the 2016 Biletnikoff Award (awarded to the nation's top receiver) and earned himself All-America First Team honors from both ESPN and for his dominating season.

Ross broke out in his junior year, hauling in 81 receptions for 1,150 yards, and his 17 receiving touchdowns ranked him third in all of college football. Ross also tallied on 8 rushes for 102 yards and ran for a touchdown.

Touchdowns aside, we know Ross can run.

How does he stack up overall?

Combine Comparables

Ross turned heads at the NFL combine as he beat Chris Johnson’s 40-yard dash record of 4.24 seconds from 2008, with a blazing time of 4.22 seconds.

He also posted a 37.0" vertical and a 133" broad jump and weighed in at 188 pounds.

Of players selected within the first two rounds, here are his closest comparables, according to our database.

Year Player Draft Pick Similarity Score
2006 Santonio Holmes Round 1, Pick 25 88.12%
2012 A.J. Jenkins Round 1, Pick 30 84.44%
2014 Brandin Cooks Round 1, Pick 20 84.27%
2009 Darrius Heyward-Bey Round 1, Pick 7 83.57%
2011 Julio Jones Round 1, Pick 6 82.86%
2009 Percy Harvin Round 1, Pick 22 82.35%

There is no stand-out player who ranks similarly to Ross, with the closest comparable player that has been drafted in the first round being Santonio Holmes at 88.12%.

It is interesting, though, to see Brandin Cooks ranked third-most similar. He, too, was the fastest wide receiver in his respective draft. Can Ross live up to the likes of Pro Bowler Julio Jones, or will he be more like A.J. Jenkins, who only had 17 career receptions? compares Ross to Mike Wallace, which also raises some eyebrows. If we return to our aforementioned combine tool and consider not only those receivers who were only drafted in the first round, Wallace is found having a 87.47% similarity score.

Examining algorithms for similar metrics is nice, but how well do the fastest wideouts each year translate into the pros? Do they always make a difference in their rookie campaigns?

Let's compare the fastest wide receivers from the past four years and look into their receptions, Reception Net Expected Points (NEP), and Success Rate (the percentage of catches that lead to positive expected points gains) to get an understanding of their role and usage in their respective offenses.

Year Player Draft Pick Rec Success Rate Reception NEP per Target
2017 John Ross Round 1, Pick 9 ? ? ?
2016 Will Fuller Round 1, Pick 21 47 80.85% 0.54
2015 J.J. Nelson Round 5, Pick 23 11 100% 1.14
2014 Brandin Cooks Round 1, Pick 20 53 75.47% 0.60
2013 Marquise Goodwin Round 3, Pick 16 17 82.35% 0.73

Right away we notice that there are two wideouts who had an impact on their offenses and two who were immaterial pieces.

Will Fuller and Cooks both were targeted a decent amount, with 47 and 53 receptions each, respectively. This showed they held value in their offense and were used immediately.

On the other hand, while J.J. Nelson and Marquise Goodwin fared better on a per-target basis, they did so at a very low volume. In other words, they were deep-ball threats who stretched the field for their offenses in limited capacity. Goodwin played 26.1 snaps per game, per FantasyData, and Nelson played 13.5 per game.

Ross can carve out a role but will ultimately have to fight for targets in a crowded Cincinnati Bengals offense.

Ross in the Bengals' Offense

The Bengals had offensive struggles that led to a disappointing 6-9-1 season.

Ross should have an immediate impact in this offensive opposite star wideout A.J. Green and will battle for that spot against Brandon LaFell; Tyler Boyd will find himself playing primarily in the slot, and with a healthy Tyler Eifert at tight end, the Bengals offensive is well on its way to improving in 2017.

Last year, Andy Dalton was fairly inefficient compared to previous years, with both injuries and offensive line being the main culprits for their struggles. Some of this could possibly be mitigated with a short passing attack, and per Pro Football Focus, Ross has one of the best slant routes in college football.

In addition to the threat of Green, Ross will also demand attention from opposing defenses. They will need to game plan around him, and he is more than capable of handling his own.

His record-breaking speed may force defensive backs to play off coverage and to give him 5 to 10 yards at the line of scrimmage. This will give him the opportunity to utilize the comeback and curl routes with a lot of success. In times when defensive backs decide to press, Ross has the athleticism and route running skills to make the necessary cut-back to gain large chunk of yards.

The Fantasy Footballer’s Matt Harmon covered Ross his offseason Reception Perception piece which helps support this. In the six-game sample of his last year at Washington, Ross’ success rate versus coverage when running the comeback (2.2% usage) and curl (18.1% usage) routes were above average when compared to the two-year prospect average examined by Harmon.

While Ross only ran these two types of routes just over a fifth of time, this exemplifies another facet of his game other than the traditional nine route most commonly thought of someone with the breakaway speed of Ross.

For what it's worth, EPSN's Mike Clay has an early projection of John Ross' rookie season in Cincinnati:

Overall, Ross has the potential to make an immediate impact in Cincinnati, and he will need to remain healthy on a team that is already full of injury-prone players on offense.

Ross' presence should open space for the running game and short to intermediate passes down the field, which will ultimately improve an offense battling uphill in a very competitive AFC North division.