The speculation is finally over. After weeks of multiple mocks, the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft is in the books. With their first top-10 pick since 2011, the Cincinnati Bengals took speedy wide receiver John Ross ninth overall.
Ross’ quickness was on full display at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month when he ran a 4.22 40-yard dash, the fastest ever recorded at the combine, shattering Chris Johnson‘s 2008 time of 4.24.
In three years at Washington, Ross tallied 114 receptions for 1,729 yards and 22 touchdowns. Last season was his most productive, posting career-highs in all three categories including 17 touchdowns, third most in all of division one.
Advocates of the pick look at what Ross can instantly bring to Cincinnati’s offense. Quarterback Andy Dalton was at his best in 2015 when he had a duo – Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones – of complimentary receivers alongside perennial Pro-Bowler A.J. Green. Dalton was on pace for career-highs in touchdowns and passing yards as well as a first-round bye in the playoffs before a season-ending thumb injury.
The Bengals replaced Sanu, Jones, and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson with veteran Brandon LaFell, second-round pick Tyler Boyd, and long-time quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese. But growing pains developed, leading to Cincinnati’s re-occurring second-half offensive struggles down the stretch.
With Ross, teams will have to gameplan for an offensive that is trying to shift back to 2015 form. LaFell and Boyd each have a year working with Dalton, while Tyler Eifert is still a Pro-Bowl weapon, he just needs to stay on the field.
It seems like a good time for the Bengals to revamp their aerial attack. This season, half of their regular-season games are against teams that had top-10 pass defenses in 2016.
Denver – 1st v. Pass (186 YPG)
Houston – 2nd v. Pass (202 YPG)
Minnesota – 3rd v. Pass (208 YPG)
Jacksonville – 5th v. Pass (215 YPG)
Buffalo – 6th v. Pass (224 YPG)
Chicago – 7th v. Pass (225 YPG)
Baltimore (2) – 9th v. Pass (233 YPG)
Many mocks had the Bengals going after a receiving threat. However, the consensus top-two receivers, Corey Davis and Mike Williams went 5th and 7th, respectively. It left the door open for Cincinnati to draft a burner, and they got him.
Critics of the pick believe the Bengals missed a grand opportunity to beef up on defense. Even though Paul Guenther‘s defense finished 17th in the NFL last season, they allowed just one touchdown in six of the final eight games, but the Bengals lost four of those affairs. Opposite Pro-Bowler Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati desperately needed (and still does) an edge rusher to wreak havoc.
Dunlap and Geno Atkins combined for 17 of the Bengals’ 33 sacks last season, so many thought pick number nine would be used on an edge rusher or a linebacker. After Carolina picked running back Christian McCaffrey – the fifth offensive selection in the first eight spots – it seemed the Bengals had a good pick of the litter.
The two top defensive ends went in the first three picks, but there were plenty of impactful names still on the board. Missouri sack master Charles Harris was available, as well as Tennessee’s Derek Barnett and Temple linebacker/edge Haason Reddick. There were even talks of Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who some tabbed as a top-five pick after finishing seventh in the Heisman voting last season.
But the Bengals went with Ross, marking the first time since 2008 that three receivers went in the top 10.
Another critique would be Ross’ injury history. He missed his junior season recovering from a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee. In total, he had three surgeries over the last three calendar years. He also had shoulder surgery last month to repair a torn labrum.
Injuries at offensive skilled positions were one of the many thorns in the Bengals’ rose in 2016. Green and Eifert played together in just two games, both ended up on the season-ending IR along with duel-threat running back Giovani Bernard. The Bengals are optimistic that Eifert will be ready to go this summer and that Ross will be healthy enough to aid Dalton, who, despite his second 4,000-yard campaign, threw a career-low 18 touchdowns in 2016.
Ross is now the eighth first-round receiver picked by the Bengals. The previous seven have 11 Pro Bowls between them – Green (6), Isaac Curtis (4), Eddie Brown (1). Ross is the fourth receiver Cincinnati has taken in the top 10, joining Green (2011), Peter Warrick (2000), and David Verser (1981).
Plenty left to pick
With 11 picks, the Bengals are set to have their largest draft class since 2009. Good news for those not a fan of the Ross pick is that this class has a lot of depth on the defensive line and at linebacker. Plenty will still be available for Cincinnati on Friday night.
The second round has been money for Marvin Lewis and company inside the Bengals’ war room. Over the last eight drafts, Cincinnati’s second-round choices have produced a few busts like Devon Still and Margus Hunt, but it has manufactured key players like Rey Maualuga, Dunlap, Dalton, Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and Boyd.
Cincinnati holds the ninth pick of the second (41st overall) and third round (73rd overall).