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Film study: Can John Ross bring more than speed to Giants’ offense?

What to expect from the 2017 top 10 selection?

Cincinnati Bengals v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The New York Giants are in desperate need of explosive playmakers and on Tuesday just added a player who fits the criteria. They signed wide receiver John Ross to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, $1 million of which is guaranteed. Ross was the ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He was a complete let-down for the Bengals. He couldn’t stay healthy, his hands were incredibly unreliable, and he fell down the depth chart.

Let’s start with the injuries; Ross has had chronic knee and shoulder injuries, as well as a couple of groin strains in his past. He tore his right meniscus twice, and his right ACL once - all back in college. Then, once he got to the NFL, he further injured his right shoulder (which existed from college as well) in 2017. He sprained the A/C joint in that same shoulder in 2019 as well. His 2018 season was also marred by groin strains that nagged him throughout the season.

The injury concerns were alarming when he came out of Washington and they were consistent through his rookie contract. Ross was supposed to be the speed element to the Bengals passing attack. Alongside A.J. Green and with Andy Dalton tossing the pigskin, Ross was supposed to be the difference-maker -- that did not happen.

He only had 119 targets and 51 catches for 733 yards, and 10 touchdowns throughout his career. Disappointing is an understatement for the ninth pick in 2017, especially when you look at the 10th, 11th, and 12th picks of that draft - Patrick Mahomes, Marshon Lattimore, and DeShaun Watson.

However, I do like this signing by the Giants. It’s low-risk, low-investment, and high upside on a 26-year-old player who ran a 4.22 40-yard-dash at the 2017 combine — beating Chris Johnson’s 4.24 record as the fastest in combine history. None of this has translated consistently onto the football field yet.

Ross dealt with family issues due to COVID-19 during 2020 training camp. He was active and on the field for the first two games but fell way down the depth chart - he only played one snap after week two. It was very apparent that Ross needed a change of scenery and that the Bengals were done with the former top 10 selection.

His best two-game stretch, and only 100-yard contests, came in the first two weeks of the 2019 season. Let’s take a look back at his 2019 tape and see what he can provide the 2021 Giants.

Drop issues

Other than the long list of injuries, another problematic part of Ross’s game is his propensity to drop the football - the Giants already have Evan Engram, and Ross’s drops are equally as egregious. Ross has 14 career drops on 119 targets - yikes!

I’m only going to post two of the drops and I went into his film analysis knowing full well that he had drop issues throughout his career, but some of these are just frustrating to see. Just poor concentration and focus, which is odd as well because he has made some very nice catches throughout his career -- just no consistency.

The Bengals offense designed plays for Ross. Cincinnati wanted to just get the football into his hands and allow him to use his incredible talents, but drops like this would occur and I’m sure Bengals fans were furious.

I know, I said two drops, but I want to show this to point out a slight lack of control entering some of these breaks. It’s almost as if he’s too fast for his own good at times and loses balance into his breaks:

Off coverage, releases outside to widen the cornerback and get space between the apex defender, but as he turns he loses his balance a bit. It happened more than once in his film, sadly:

Ross runs a quick slant against off coverage and has plenty of room to operate, but he just loses balance out of the break and Dalton can’t connect. It’s almost as if his body is tilted too far in one direction and he can’t maintain his speed through these turns. There’s plenty of routes that he put on tape where he doesn’t lose balance, but these control issues still popped up more than one would like to see.

His hands are very small for a receiver, they’re in the ninth percentile.

He’s also in the 99th percentile for speed and 96th for lower body explosiveness, and those traits do show up on film.


Ross is the No. 2 receiver in the 3x1 set. Just watch how insanely sudden he is with his movements.

Two Seattle Seahawk defenders have him teed up and he makes them both look silly. Ross has a ton of baggage, but the guy has some elite athletic traits and deep speed to boot.

Ross is at the top of the screen here and watch how he fakes the break by sinking his hips. The corner bites, then realizes it’s a fake and completely panics because he knows Ross’s speed is far too much to handle. It’s a very nice and smooth route here by Ross. He has the ability to drop his weight and fake breaks like this and if defenders bite - sayonara! Ross’s fake creates about 4 yards of separation on a comeback route. Defenders have to respect his vertical ability.

Big play-ability

Let me start off by pointing out that the angle by the safety is horrendous. With that stated, Ross has the ability to create big plays. Ross is the No. 1 receiver (outside) at the top of your screen and he runs a slight out and up; he separates from the corner, but the corner does have help. The ball is underthrown, but Ross jumps up and high points the ball right behind the safety who executed a terrible jump ball situation. Ross secures the catch and runs it into the end-zone.

Ross’s game against the Seahawks was the best of his career. He had 7 catches for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns on 12 targets, but he also had 3 drops in that game.

Here’s another touchdown Ross had a week later against the 49ers. He’s the No. 1 receiver at the top of the screen and he runs a good route here: angles his stem outside, accelerates to get up on the corner, gets the corner’s hips flipped, then hits the dig route and accelerates upfield. Ross completely gets the corner turned around and has the athletic ability to take the ball to the house. He’s got a lot of big play-ability.

Here, Ross is the No. 2 receiver in the 3x1 set at the top of the screen. Ross uses a nice delayed-release, presses the outside shoulder of the corner, and breaks back inside against man coverage. The cornerback misses his attempt at making contact and Ross makes the safety miss, while taking the pass 34 yards. A nice quick slant success for John Ross.

This is a very nice out type of route by John Ross who doesn’t seem inept in the art of running routes (Ross is at the bottom of the screen). He faces a lot of off coverage due to his speed, and he does a good job angling his body up his stems to keep defenders guessing on his breaks and intentions. Ross does a good job varying his tempo; one can see how he’s going about half speed until he gets to the 36-yard-line then he explodes, putting the cornerback in fright. The first part of his stem is slightly angled outside and then he breaks it back upfield with speed to get the cornerback to restrict space on the route - but it’s a ruse! Ross wanted the corner to go inside because he’s breaking the route down and going back outside. This is subtle, yet very good by Ross.

Final thoughts

John Ross has an extensive injury history and he struggles to hold onto the football. It did not work out with Cincinnati and he needs a change of scenery. Ross is going to offer the Giants an explosive element that can take the top off of defenses. The drops and durability concerns are frustrating, but his athletic ability is rare and the Giants can certainly use his burst. He’s shown some nuance with his route running, he creates separation easily with athletic ability, and he’s dangerously sudden in space. It’s a low-cost signing for a young receiver who was a top 10 pick a few years ago.