Our next stop on our tour of first round prospect targets takes us back to the offensive side of the ball, and more specifically, wide receiver. Although the Eagles bolstered their unit with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, the Eagles still lack long-term stability, with prove-it deals and contract-year’s being the narrative in 2017. If the Birds do decide to draft a receiver in the first round, there is plenty of talent to choose from..but one of the names most commonly linked with the Eagles, is Washington’s John Ross.
No player may have helped his stock and made himself more money than Ross at the combine. Showing off his incredible speed with his 4.22 forty time, combined with his strength in the bench and great hands, Ross may prove to be a top ten pick.
With 18 touchdowns last season alone, its clear Ross has star potential..but to make things even tastier for the Eagles, he modeled his game after DeSean Jackson. The former Eagles wideout actually mentored Ross and has helped him refine his craft before making the jump to the next level.
Whether or not the Eagles should consider taking the receiver who amassed 1,157 yards in 2016, is a debate that has set social media ablaze in recent weeks..and one which this article takes a closer look at. Using the same grading criteria as we did for our Free Agency Film Room series, which are key points that one College scout told me he looks for in prospects, it’s time to take a look at the fastest man in this year’s draft class.
Getting off the line:
An aspect of the game that is absolutely critical in the West-Coast Offense, and one that the Eagles struggled with in 2016 when depth became an issue. With Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz suffering injury setbacks last year, Dorial Green-Beckham, Nelson Agholor and a tandem of undrafted rookies would all have to step up to the plate. But getting the initial step on their opponent was often a limiting factor in Pederson’s Offense.
For the 5’11, 188 lbs, wideout, this isn’t a problem due to his natural burst. Ross has lighting footwork, as can be seen at the bottom of the screen on the play below. This keeps corners hesitant on press coverage, as getting overzealous with contact could allow the wideout to fly into space. With short stutter steps before cutting outside, Ross is able to assert his direction without making contact until the stem of the vertical route. Although this was an option play, the launch was still impressive.
The same can be seen later that game, but here Ross, at the top of the screen, is able to cut inside. His burst after hesitation gives him such a boost over a corner who has to change direction, often giving him the opportunity to make a big play.
One of the other areas in which the Eagles struggled, was scoring when inside the 5 on passing plays. With DGB, many assumed that he would be a perrenial red-zone target. That simply wasn’t the case. In the game against Baltimore, Jordan Matthews spent a little too long trying to fool the corner with a chance to win the game on a 2-pt conversion..and the lack of separation in this situation across the board cost the Eagles last year. For Ross, a quick cut is all it takes for him to break outside cleanly on a fade..before a drastically under-thrown ball hits Chidobe Awuzie.
Perhaps my favorite play from the four games I watched for this article, was this one against USC. Ross attacked the corner with his first step, forcing him off his pedestal and was able to then pace his run to allow the ball to catch up to him, making the easy catch and taking it to the house. But that stutter step before kicking it up a gear was just beautiful.
This is where Ross, in my opinion, can fall subject to criticism. Because of his smaller frame, if he comes up against more physically imposing corners, he can often get fought off the route or forced onto a tightrope. But if he can get the first step, the rest is history. As seen in this route against Colorado, Ross is able to keep Whitherspoon a step inside and uses his hands to ensure that there’s little contact to slow him down ahead of the break. But the ball, once again was misplaced.
A better example came against fellow projected first round pick, Chidobe Awuzie. Ross carried a little too much of his speed into the route, losing his balance. But Awuzie had him blanketed from start to finish. Ross didn’t have the thrusters to push past Awuzie, who kept with him stride for stride.
But then there are other times where Ross uses his elusiveness to break effortlessly. This route against Oregon is a true testament to that, as Ross works out out of the slot to come across the face of the defender and then push for the back of the endzone.
Later that quarter, Ross powered through contact for a deep look. The ball (would you believe?) was overthrown, but Ross was able to shrug off some light bumps from Lovette and accelerate down the sideline.
The other aspect of winning “The Stem” is breaking cleanly..and even though Ross is a little more rugged in his route running, out routes just become silky smooth. There’s not really much description needed here, the rapid direction change says it all.
Ross has earned the reputation of one of the best deep-threats in the Draft and a large part of that comes down to his ability to separate, but that applies to more than just deep routes. Ross was able to sell the slant beautifully on this play before turning his back and cutting back outside. This is a pass Ross should have really hauled in, but the route running itself was extremely crisp.
Given the structure of the West-Coast Offense, many of the routes run are short, intermediate plays in which the receiver can shrug off a corner for a quick checkdown. Even though Ross once again carried a little too much weight into the first steps of the route, he’s able to cut inside in the blink of an eye for a big passing lane, should the play have developed that way.
Against Whitherspoon, he’s able to break outside and sell the deep route before spinning back and hauling in a high pass. The Colorado corner plays the receiver well, keeping him under wraps..but the acceleration of Ross makes these kind of routes extremely lethal.
Those out-routes can become even more dangerous when defenses plan to bend and not break. Trying to keep the lid firmly placed on the Defense is one way to stop Ross, but he can then punish zone-coverage looks with some swift changes of direction, creating acres of separation.
The one thing that stands out about Ross, aside from his speed, is his catch radius. The Washington wideout is always willing to attack the ball at its highest point and go up to make the tough grab. The quarterback originally intended a screen pass but due to oncoming pressure floated up a difficult and risky pass..one that Awuzie should have dissected. Ross leapt up to make the catch, showing off his 37″ vertical, taking it to the house moments after.
We mentioned earlier how Ross is able to get open on redzone fades..and this is a perfect example. Tracking the ball over his shoulder and locating it perfectly, Ross has great awareness to bring in his back foot quickly, secure the ball and bring it down to his chest.
Ross showed a similar quality later in the game, recording his second touchdown of the day. Tracking the ball, he snags it out of the air and makes a big leap..but ensures his back foot touches down before hitting the back of the endzone. His ability to locate the ball and make the necessary bodily adjustments to haul it in come to fruition time and time again.
There may be no better example of the aforementioned quality than the below reception. An over the shoulder catch as he heads to the sideline is hauled in so smoothly, that it’s taken for granted. But Ross also fought past a corner who got overly feisty..showcasing his instincts to win the stem of the route too.
If you need another highlight from the same game…
Given that Carson Wentz had a tendency to have passes sail on him at times during the 2016 season, having a wideout who can make the necessary adjustments to get up and make the big grab before turning to immediately drive for more yards, would be a welcome addition to the roster.
Oh..and on an unrelated note, don’t take his “undersized” label for granted when he’s able to make blocks like this.
Although he isn’t the crispest route runner in the draft, the speed of John Ross alone presents a persistent deep-threat to Defenses who simply has to be accounted for. But even when he is, the underrated aspects of his play allow him to be a real threat in shorter routes or plays that leave a lot on the wideouts shoulders.
Ross would be the perfect compliment to a possession based receiver in Jordan Matthews, a star in Alshon Jeffery and a rotation of Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor. He may not contribute straight away, shades of Laquon Treadwell shine through. But with Mike Groh in town, a “redshirt” year may be all that’s needed to iron out the creases in Ross’s game.
His scintilating speed and incredible ball tracking ability make him a very enticing prospect at number 14. The stumbles and rugged route running can all be corrected, as well as learning how to distribute his weight at the start of routes. Ross is a difference maker. From day one he can come in and make an impact..and when many hear the name, they think of the number 4.22, not a wide receiver.
John Ross is SO much more than just a guy who can run vertical routes and burn unsuspecting Defenses..and if other teams fail to realize that, he would be a steal at 14.
Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports