John Ross’s NFL career has not gone according to plan. Drafted ninth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017, the speedy wide receiver was supposed to use his record-smashing 4.22 40-yard dash speed to become a play-making star in Cincinnati.
Things have not worked out that way. Ross, now trying to make the New York Giants roster, fully understands why.
“My story is obviously out there. I think my biggest thing isn’t my ability, it’s my availability and me being healthy,” Ross said. “You can tell when I’m not healthy, you can see when things aren’t going right, and I think that’s my biggest thing. I haven’t played 16 games yet and I’m going on my fifth year. I think that says a lot and that’s a big deal.”
In four seasons, injuries have limited Ross to playing in just 27 of 64 possible games. Only he knows how many of the games in which he actually played he was limited by one of his numerous injuries.
Ross had a torn ACL and a labrum tear while at Washington. He had knee and shoulder issues as a rookie, played in only three games and did not catch a pass.
Ross played in a career-high 13 games in 2018, missing time with a groin injury. He wasn’t, though, very good. He caught only 21 of 59 targets (36.2 percent) for 210 yards. Seven of his 21 receptions, though, did result in touchdowns.
Another shoulder injury cost Ross eight games in 2019. A foot injury and taking time away after his sone tested positive for COVID-19 limited him to only three games two receptions in 2020.
After finishing 31st in the league in points scored, not creating nearly enough explosive plays, and getting only 11 touchdowns in the passing game a season ago the Giants are taking a flier on Ross, who won’t turn 26 until November. They signed him to a one-year, $2.25 million contract ($1 million guaranteed) to see if he could hold together long enough to contribute some big plays.
“I’ve seen a lot of things in terms of how he’s working and producing on the field and there’s been a lot of encouraging things to build on. Obviously, he has elite speed and obviously he’s a very good athlete,” head coach Joe Judge said of Ross. “But there’s a lot of fast guys, I mean, over in Tokyo [at the Olympics] there’s a lot of guys that are handing batons off to each other, you know, that can’t help you on the field.
“I think John’s definitely got a skill set that he does a good job of combining that speed and athleticism with football instincts. In terms what have happened anywhere else with any player, I’m not concerned about that. I know John’s on our team now, I’m happy to have him here and he’s on a fresh start with us.”
Ross isn’t guaranteed a big role in the offense. He isn’t even guaranteed a spot on the roster.
“I’m just taking it day by day. I’m thankful to be here. I’m just focusing on the time now. I’m not really worried about what happened in the past. Just looking forward to today, looking forward to tomorrow and the future, whatever that holds,” he said. “I don’t really try to view it as that, where I see myself fitting in. I just come here every day, and I try and work. Wherever I’m placed, I’ll be ready to work and that’s kind of my big focus. Not worrying about what my role is, this and that, I’ll let the coaches handle that. I just come here to do what I’ve been doing for years, just play football.”
The Giants have thus far worked Ross as a receiver and a kickoff returner. The latter role is something he did well in college at Washington (24.1 yards per return, 4 TDs on 86 returns), but was never given the opportunity to do with the Bengals.
“This early part of training camp is going to be kind of like a sample, kind of put them through everything, see what really kind of comes out, what we focus on and build it to his and everyone else’s strength and skill set and then start refining and that’ll be on special teams as well as offense,” Judge said. ‘I’ll tell you one thing I’m impressed with right now [about ross] – so, obviously, the speed stands out, but the work ethic and he’s coming in, he’s very down to earth, very humble guy, a great teammate.
“Before we really had to interact with him, a lot of the teammates who got together with him in Arizona and threw around, so you get a lot of feedback from the players and they say, ‘Hey listen, we like this guy. He came and fit right in with the group.’ “
One member of that group of receivers in Dante Pettis. The two are teammates and friends from their collegiate days at Washington. They also happen to be in direct competition for what might be a single spot on the 53-man roster.
“We both know what we’re here to do,” Ross said. “At the end of the day, it’s never nothing against each other. I think me and Dante know that with our past, we’re dealing with and competing against ourselves and trying to be better than what we were the last couple of years and that’s all we’re focused on. Not so much me and Dante but everybody in the room. I think Judge preaches, don’t worry about other things, worry about yourself and work hard every day and you’ll get treated how you work, so that’s all we care about.”
As disappointing as his career has been, Ross has gained some perspective. He left the Bengals for a period of time last season after his 3-year-old son and the boy’s mother tested positive for COVID-19.
“My life is bigger than football. I think that kind of got to me over these last couple of years. I think I put too much stress into the game and not into myself. I learned that I just need to take this day by day, take it for what it is and like I’ve been saying earlier, just continue to work hard every day. I’m here to do a job and that’s what I should be focused on.”
The Giants are hoping that perspective, and some good health, will help Ross make some big plays on the field.