Everyone wants to talk about his speed.
In fact, 11 NFL teams had talked to John Ross at the NFL combine by Friday afternoon — before he had even finished his formal interviews around the league or taken the field for drills.
Ross said he’s going after Chris Johnson’s combine record, set in 2008, for the fastest 40-yard dash (4.24 seconds). The ex-Husky will be timed inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.
“I’m going to try. I’m going to try,” the wide receiver said with a smile Friday. “I don’t want to say too much, like I’m everything. But I’m definitely going to go for it.
“I’ve been blessed with speed. ... That’s where I stand out the most.”
Ross stood out on day three of the combine for his graciousness and loyalty to a former University of Washington teammate.
In May 2015, four months after surgery to repair two meniscus tears in his right knee, Ross learned that he was missing his junior season at UW. He needed a second knee surgery, this one to rebuild his anterior cruciate ligament.
He could have sulked. He could have spiraled out of the Huskies’ plans. He was so far from where he is right now, one of the most talked-about prospects at this combine, a player who could go in the first 15 picks of April’s draft.
Instead, Ross admired Deontae Cooper.
The relentless Cooper, Ross’ teammate with the Huskies, had not one, not two, but three reconstructions because of three torn ACLs in three years. The running back eventually got his degree at UW and, after a series of medical-hardship applications, the NCAA granted Cooper an unheard-of seventh season of eligibility. He played last fall at San Jose State.
“That’s something that’s hard to overcome,” Ross said. “Especially me going through it once, I would never wish that on anyone. And just to see him overcome three? There’s nothing more amazing than that.
“And I’ve never seen a frown on his face. He’s always so positive. Every day he came in with high energy, happy to be where he is.
“It’s good to be around somebody like that.”
These days, it’s good to be around Ross.
If you can catch him.
His game-breaking, defense-wrecking speed, even after the knee surgeries, is why many feel he may be the first wide receiver drafted in April. He can simply out-run NFL coverages.
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock said this week that Ross may fit perfectly with the speed-needy Philadelphia Eagles at No. 15 overall. “John Ross just absolutely flies,” Mayock said. “As a vertical threat, he’s probably the best one in this draft.”
Ross led the Pac-12 with 17 touchdown receptions last season, when he caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards. He was a national semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given annually to the top wide receiver in college football. He then declared for the draft, forgoing his senior season.
Speed can’t wait.
Ross ran a hand-timed 4.25 seconds in the 40 last March at UW’s pro-like combine, which coach Chris Petersen puts on each spring. Ross said his goal, short of breaking Johnson’s record in the 40, is to run in the 4.3 range on Saturday.
If he does, that would seem to ensure he will become the fourth Husky drafted in the first round in three years. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton (to Cleveland), cornerback Marcus Peters (to Kansas City) and linebacker Shaq Thompson (to Carolina) went in round one in 2015, while Ross was between his knee surgeries.
Ross said Friday that he will undergo shoulder surgery March 14, but that he “definitely” will be fine before the upcoming NFL season.
People at the combine are asking Ross how much those operations set him back. “I think it gave me an advantage,” he said.
“Advantage?” one questioner from the East Coast said, incredulously.
“Yes,” Ross continued. “I feel better. I feel stronger. I think it helped me throughout my career.”
Ross officially was measured at just over 5 feet 10 inches, and 188 pounds, on Thursday. So, no, size is not the reason he’s a star.
NFL teams value him not only as a deep-threat wide receiver, but as a kick returner, which he also was at UW.
Ross was asked what separates him from Clemson’s Mike Williams and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis, the other two wide receivers expected to be drafted in the first round.
His answer wasn’t exactly a shocker.
“The speed. Definitely, the speed,” Ross said. “Mike, he can also be a deep threat, but he’s a big guy. Corey Davis is a complete guy. I just think that I am faster than those guys. That’s what shows up more on film.
“That’s where I stand out the most.”
And that is why, when asked at the combine about his fellow Los Angeles native and Pac-12 wide receiver, Washington State’s Gabe Marks laughed.
“He’s a good guy,” Marks said of Ross.
“And he’s going to make a lot of money.”
Mike Williams said he’s not going to run the 40-yard dash at the combine, but at his pro day for scouts back at Clemson later this month. … Weight has been a huge issue for Tacoma native and former Lakes High School star Zach Banner. He expanded up to 385 pounds while playing at USC. The 6-8 offensive tackle officially weighed 353 pounds at the combine. “Down eight pounds from the Senior Bowl — and 30 pounds down from the Rose Bowl,” he said, knowing scouts are watching him for that. He’s hired a chef and a nutritionist in preparing for the draft. … TE Darrell Daniels, one of seven Huskies at the combine, was wearing a black Washington Football team cap atop his official NFL combine gear. “I was one of the captains, so I’ve got to represent,” he said. Daniels was recruited to UW to be a wide receiver before being switched by former Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian (who is at the combine as Atlanta’s new offensive coordinator). Daniels said he measured 6-3 and 247 pounds, three pounds down from this past Huskies season. He said he’s hoping to run in the 4.4-second range in the 40 on Saturday. Daniels said coach Chris Petersen’s spring combine, modeled after the pro one, helped him immensely in feeling comfortable in Indianapolis.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle