The 2018 NFL Combine opens this coming Tuesday, February 27th. Teams will be able to view prospects running the same athletic drills, side-by-side against each other for context. While not an end-all, be-all of draft events, it can be a defining event for certain player’s stocks.
For an example, look no further than the Bengals’ own 2017 first-round pick: John Ross.
Nearly a year ago – March 4, 2017 – Ross set the combine record for 40-yard dash time at 4.22 seconds. The event was a huge factor in Ross’ stock rising to the point where the Bengals felt comfortable taking him at ninth overall in the draft. It was possibly the biggest story of that combine, and certainly the most famous moment of Ross’ fledgling football career.
For better or worse, it still is. Calling Ross’ rookie season with the Bengals ‘underwhelming’ would be an understatement. He wasn’t available for a significant fraction of the season, and his usage (even when available) was marginal. He touched the ball once all season, against Houston, and the possession ended in a turnover. Over time, Ross’ name fell out of the national spotlight, and the strange whimper his season ended on seemingly went unheard.
With the combine’s imminence bringing his name back up, Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com reached out to Ross to discuss the receiver’s image, stemming from both his combine stardom and disappointing rookie year.
“At the end of the day, it really doesn’t mean that much to me,” Ross told Hobson. “I’d rather be playing than recognized for running.”
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Ross went on to discuss how post-combine shoulder surgery (among other things) led to him missing substantial practice time in the offseason, and how it affected his rookie year.
“That was the problem,” Ross says. “My body didn’t respond the way I wanted it to. Coming in late, I didn’t get to train. I was out of shape. That was pretty tough on my body. Rushing into it. Being out of shape. My body couldn’t take the physical aspects of the game we do every day. I thought I could. I think it kind of wore me out faster than I thought. I really didn’t catch up until the end of the year when I started to have better practices. It all started to click together. It was already kind of too late. It was best to rest, get my body right.”
Ross, of course, ended his season with a move to injured reserve in early December. He’s set to start 2018 fully healthy, a year removed from the mania of being the ninth overall draft selection. Then, he’ll have the opportunity to change how Bengals fans – and football fans in general – perceive him.
“I want them to think, ‘This kid overcame adversity,’” Ross told Hobson.
Sooner than later, we’ll see if the kid can, in fact, overcome adversity. For at least next week, however, he’ll still be remembered as the fastest man at the combine. A title that he justly resents.
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