NFL draft profile: No. 15 — Washington WR John Ross, elite speed and dynamic playmaker

Washington WR John Ross
5-foot-11, 189 pounds

Key stat: After suffering a torn ACL and missing the 2015 season, Ross broke out in 2016 with 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns, along with a 24.2-yard kickoff-return average and one score.

Washington WR John Ross has the kind of speed that NFL teams can build offenses around. (AP)
Washington WR John Ross has the kind of speed that NFL teams can build offenses around. (AP)

The skinny: High-school track blazer and football star committed to Washington under then-head coach Steve Sarkisian and stepped right in as impact slot receiver and punt and kick returner as a true freshman. In 2014, Ross started games at both receiver and cornerback (more on that below) and returned kicks, all while playing through a right knee injury. Missed the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL and meniscus that he suffered in the spring that year. Returned strong in 2016 and was named offensive MVP, also reprising his role as kick returner.

Ross declared for the 2017 NFL draft following his junior season. Ran a 4.22-second 40-yard dash, the best time recorded in the last 12 years of the event. His calf tightened up, which prevented Ross from running his shuttles and he opted out of the bench press because of impending labrum surgery, which occurred on March 14. Scheduled for combine medical recheck on April 14-15 on that injury. He turns 23 in November.

Best-suited destination: Ross figures to play the “X” or “Z” receiver spots and be a kick-return candidate in the NFL, and his skill set could fit with pretty much any style of offense. If you can’t find a spot for that kind of speed and game-changing ability, you’re probably not much of a coach. Teams that could be especially interested in Ross’ services include the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and others.

Upside: Explosive, field-tilting speed merchant. Can open up a run game by drawing safeties out of the box. Rare burner who can split safeties, even in two-deep zones. Gears up quickly and can freeze and shock defenders with turbo burst. Blink and he’s gone. Has subtle and concise footwork and can change directions in a heartbeat. Put a wicked stutter step on USC’s Adoree’ Jackson, a possible first-round pick, for a long touchdown:

Washington WR John Ross roasts a first-round talent for a touchdown against USC. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)
Washington WR John Ross roasts a first-round talent for a touchdown against USC. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)

Consistently underthrown after blowing by defenses. Gives you “hidden yards” — drew a ton of pass interference calls from defensive backs who had been burned. Has experience as punt and kick returner, lined up inside and out and took handoffs in creative ways. Also lined up at cornerback in 2014 out of necessity (four starts there) when team was short-handed. Is a threat every time he touches the ball, even when he seems to be hemmed in, like this play against Arizona:

Watch as Washington WR John Ross makes the Arizona defenders miss …
Watch as Washington WR John Ross makes the Arizona defenders miss …
… and then turn on the afterburners for a touchdown. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)
… and then turn on the afterburners for a touchdown. (Draftbreakdown.com, via YouTube)

Has home-run potential as a kick returner. Explodes upfield, makes decisive cuts and sees creases before they open. Most teams tried to blast it through the end zone or pooch kick when he was out there. Impacts field position positively just by being on the field. Also has shown toughness to play through injuries. Team-first, highly motivated performer who works at his craft and does what is needed to win. Has run a full route tree — everything from a bubble screen to a “go” route to square-ins, and isn’t afraid to go over the middle despite his limited size.

Downside: Can get bodied by bigger, longer-armed corners who get physical with him (see Colorado, USC, Alabama games). Has a smallish frame that appears maxed out, with short arms (31 1/2 inches) and very small hands (8 3/4 inches) that fall below a few teams’ benchmarks for the position. Concerning injury history with issues in both knees (including microfracture surgery in right knee) and is rehabbing from torn labrum. Might not have a 12-year NFL career if injuries keep piling up. Will struggle at times to track the ball in traffic downfield. Has shown better ability to separate recently but still could add refinement to his route running, especially at the stems — can get by on natural ability, but there’s room for improvement there. Will suffer from concentration lapses with drops on passes he should catch. Bottled up at end of season — held to 8.8 yards per touch in final two games against Colorado (Pac-12 title game) and ‘Bama (FBS semifinal playoffs). Caught five or fewer passes in eight of 14 games in 2016.

Held in check as returner last season after 92-yard TD in season-opener against Rutgers, which ended season ranked 99th in FBS for kick-return defense. Ross can get a little greedy on returns. Might frustrate special-teams coordinator with how many kickoffs he brings out from five yards deep into the end zone. Gives effort as a blocker but isn’t able to lock out or move average-sized corners in space. More of a “run to the free safety” factor in the run game than someone who can seal the edge.

Scouting hot take: “I’m just waiting for the [medical] results from the recheck. We have a hold on him right now, but I love the kid. He would have been even better and put up bigger numbers if the quarterback [Jake Browning] could have gotten him the ball. If he’s cleared, I am not sure he gets to us.” — NFC college scouting director

Player comp: Similar to Santonio Holmes, who always impacted games more than his statistics suggested while he was healthy, and Brandin Cooks in terms of on-field value.

Expected draft range: Top-20 pick

Previous profiles

Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
No. 41. Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu
No. 40. USC CB-KR Adoree’ Jackson
No. 39. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
No. 38. Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
No. 37: Ole Miss TE Evan Engram
No. 36: Florida LB Jarrad Davis
No. 35: Washington S Budda Baker
No. 34: Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon
No. 33: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
No. 32: Florida CB Quincy Wilson
No. 31: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara
No. 30: Michigan DB-RS Jabrill Peppers
No. 29: Alabama OT Cam Robinson
No. 28: Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
No. 27: LSU CB Tre’Davious White
No. 26: Missouri DE Charles Harris
No. 25: UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley
No. 24: Michigan DE Taco Charlton
No. 23: Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
No. 22: Utah OT Garett Bolles
No. 21: Western Kentucky OG-C Forrest Lamp
No. 20: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
No. 19: Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku
No. 18: Tennessee DE Derek Barnett
No. 17: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
No. 16: North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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