INDIANAPOLIS — John Ross told us it was going to happen. Teammate Budda Baker did too. And then Ross lined up on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium and did the unthinkable by running a 4.22 official time in the 40-yard dash, setting a new NFL combine record.
Who is the man everyone in the NFL is talking about right now?
“A clean Tyreek Hill” is how one NFL wide receiver coach put it.
Meet John Ross. A wide receiver destined for the first round with his blazing-fast speed.
Ross was a Scout 4-star recruit coming out of Long Beach, California, and committed to play wideout for the Huskies. He got off to a solid start in 2013 and began working his way into the lineup as an up-and-comer at the receiver position and as a return man. During the 2014 season, while Ross was a backup receiver, he actually started at cornerback for four games after Marcus Peters was removed from the team. That kind of athleticism and versatility was turning heads before he was draft eligible.
The 2015 season was supposed to be Ross’ coming-out party, but a torn ACL in spring practice had him redshirting for that year. Known for his game-changing ability with the ball in his hands, Ross was primed for a huge season in Chris Petersen’s offense if he could stay healthy in 2016.
In his final year of college, Ross became one of the best players in the nation. His explosive yards-after-catch ability and skills as a deep threat were a perfect match for quarterback Jake Browning. The two connected on 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns in an offense designed to give Ross room to run. Once he has that, he’s gone.
Heading into the combine, scouts were concerned about Ross’ ability to stay healthy. He had injuries to both knees in college and is currently awaiting surgery on a labrum tear suffered late in the season. But as one scout texted me Saturday, "If Ross can run that fast with a torn labrum and cramps, imagine how fast he is when someone is chasing him." That same scout’s team clocked Ross at 4.16 seconds using a handheld timer during his 40 run.
Teams will be lining up to see Ross at the Washington pro day on March 11. There, Ross will be tested on his route tree and ability to track the ball down the field in conditions not as favorable as in Indianapolis.
One thing is for certain, though: Ross will be a first-round pick in April as long as he checks out medically. He’ll have shoulder surgery on March 14 and should be ready for summer minicamps with a normal rehab time. That’s all NFL wide receiver and special teams coaches need to hear to know they can plug Ross into their schemes.
The NFL coach compared Ross to Tyreek Hill, and while that’s a fun comparison, he isn’t limited to special teams or being just a gadget player. Ross is a legit route-runner and has a much more dynamic ability to leave defenders in the dust with his breaks and cuts. Hill is arguably more powerful as a runner, but Ross is the more complete player. He’s perhaps a mix of Hill’s speed and DeSean Jackson’s route-running skills.
That’s a pretty dangerous combo.
With so little top-tier talent in the 2017 wide receiver class—only Ross, Mike Williams of Clemson and Western Michigan's Corey Davis are in my first-round rankings—this creates a considerable amount of buzz for the Huskies star.
Ross, according to one scout I spoke with after the receiver's 40, could go ahead of Williams due to concerns about the Clemson man's deep speed and separation. It will vary team by team due to offensive system and needs, but Ross is already thought of as a better receiver than any player drafted in the 2016 first round by one scout I spoke with.
When he stepped off the plane in Indianapolis, Ross had to know he had a chance at the record in the 40. To do so with that pressure on him and a bum shoulder? That's one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen at the NFL Scouting Combine.