Scan the myriad mock drafts available for online consumption, and it becomes obvious there are still many analysts who believe Washington Huskies receiver John Ross III will be selected in the first round.
After catching 17 touchdown passes as a junior last season, then breaking the NFL scouting combine record with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash, Ross has done enough in the past year to be considered one of the draft’s most promising playmakers.
But he also spent a good chunk of his college career injured — and recently underwent shoulder surgery — and that, a few draftniks have mused, could lead to questions about his ability to stay healthy.
That’s what local draft analyst Rob Rang of CBSSports.com wrote in his most recent mock, still predicting that Ross would go to the New Orleans Saints with the final pick in the first round, but warning that “durability concerns, however, could lead to a draft-day tumble for the speedster.”
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That’s similar to what NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told reporters on a conference call last week, saying that “some teams that have pushed him down the board or off the board because of injury.” (Mayock concluded, however, that “I’m a huge fan of John Ross.”)
Indeed, Ross’ medical sheet is far from clean. In addition to recent shoulder surgery, Ross missed the 2015 season following surgery to repair a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee, and played most of the 2014 season with a torn meniscus in his right knee. That, too, required surgery. And at 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, Mayock said, “he’s got a small frame.”
But Ross has insisted since he tore his ACL that he has gotten faster and stronger, and his combine results bear that out. Before tearing his ACL, Ross ran a hand-timed 4.29-second 40-yard dash at UW’s team combine event. Two years later, after surgery, he ran a hand-timed 4.25. And his record-breaking 4.22 mark at the NFL combine turned into one of the biggest stories of the draft season.
In addition to his speed, Ross’ emergence as a fundamentally skilled receiver made him one of the nation’s most productive pass-catchers in 2016. He finished the year with 81 receptions for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns, earning consideration as one of the best receivers in this year’s draft class.
“At the end of the day,” Ross said last month at UW’s pro day, “I’ve still got to be a football player, so that’s all I’m worried about — not whether somebody thinks I’m faster than everybody else.”
Ross and teammate Kevin King, a cornerback, were among 22 players invited to attend the draft — beginning Thursday — along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. Several projections have Ross headed to the Tennessee Titans with the 18th overall pick. Some speculate that he could go No. 14 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles. ESPN’s Todd McShay recently projected he might go No. 30 overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
His NFL.com bio offers Tampa Bay receiver DeSean Jackson, one of Ross’ mentors, as a reasonable comparison among current NFL players, and his proficiency as a kick returner — he set UW’s career record with four kick-return touchdowns — makes him an even more intriguing prospect.
That’s why NFL.com writes that Ross “should be able to step right in as a kick returner and a slot receiver.”
“If his knees check out as healthy,” NFL.com wrote in Ross’ draft profile before the combine, “Ross is a likely first-round pick with the rare ability to become a high-volume slot receiver or a lesser-targeted, high-yield deep-ball threat.”