When John Ross recorded the fastest 40-yard dash in combine history two years ago, he immediately caught the eye of talent evaluators, analysts and fans alike. His 4.22 run was a sign of things to come for the Washington wide receiver — but not just because he ended up getting drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals with the ninth overall selection in the 2017 draft: Ross also strained his calves by the end of the record-breaking 40 attempt.
Injuries have generally been a recurring theme throughout the wideout’s career. In 2014, Ross tore his MCL. In 2015, he tore his ACL. During his 2017 rookie season in the NFL, he struggled with a knee injury before getting placed on season-ending injured reserve because of a shoulder issue. He was available for most the 2018 season again, but also missed three games because of a groin injury.
Along the way, the former first-round draft selection caught just 21 passes on 60 targets in 16 games for the Bengals, gaining 210 combined receiving yards and scoring seven touchdowns. And with Zac Taylor replacing Marvin Lewis as the club’s new head coach, Cincinnati is now reportedly looking to part ways with Ross via trade — and the New England Patriots should be in on the sweepstakes.
Let’s start with the fact that the Patriots are no strangers when it comes to trying to revitalize the careers of former first-round wide receivers that flamed out with their previous teams. In 2018, for example, the team had Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson on its 53-man roster and also brought in Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman to (unsuccessfully) compete for roles on the receiver depth chart. Ross could now become their latest reclamation project.
Furthermore, the team has plenty of draft capital available for a potential trade: New England owns a total of 12 draft picks this year, and could be willing to use some of them to acquire Ross — a player that likely will not command a selection inside the top-100 given his unimpressive NFL résumé. So how about the 134th pick in the fourth round for Ross and the first of the Bengals’ two sixth-round selections, pick number 183?
A move like that would make sense for both parties involved. Cincinnati would move up almost 50 spots in the draft, while the Patriots would get a high-upside wide receiver during an offseason that might bring plenty of change to the position in New England: after all, both the aforementioned Dorsett and Patterson are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, as is Chris Hogan. Meanwhile, Josh Gordon remains indefinitely suspended leaving Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman as the only proven wideout on the roster.
Adding Ross to the group would be a gamble to a certain degree due to his injury history and failure to consistently perform in the Bengals’ offense. However, his upside cannot be denied considering that he stood out in college for more than just his straight-line speed: he was quick out of his breaks, competed well against press-man coverage, and displayed tremendous hands — all things he failed to consistently do with the Bengals.
Why was that the case? In all likelihood because of a variety of issues, as Pats Pulpit’s own Taylor Kyles pointed out on Twitter earlier today (slightly adapted from Twitter-speak):
John Ross’ tape is weird as hell. Dropped a lot of balls, contested and uncontested, but almost all of the catches I’ve seen were highly contested or forced him to make a difficult adjustment. Off the top of my head, I’d say between 40-50% of the passes thrown his way were uncatchable based on the 90 plays I watched. Sometimes it was because he wasn’t able to separate, but lots of times the quarterback didn’t even give him a chance.
A change of scenery might therefore be the best for the 24-year old, and New England seems like an ideal destination. After all, few coaching staffs in the NFL are better at putting their players in a position to succeed based on their skill sets. From afar, Ross’ would seem to fit in well with how the Patriots use their wide receivers. Whether or not that prompts them to try to acquire the wideout — one that carries a salary cap hit of $2.0 million this season — remains to be seen.
From this point of view, however, New England should at least make a call.