The speedster from the University of Washington has already been linked to the Redskins, has a relationship with DeSean Jackson and impressed everyone Saturday at the NFL Combine.
During his media session on Friday, wide receiver John Ross was asked whether he could beat running back Chris Johnson’s 40-yard dash record at the NFL Combine.
“I'm going to try. I am going to try,” Ross said. “I don't want to say too much. I'm going to try. I'm going to give it my best.”
The next day, Ross certainly did, running 40 yards in 4.22 seconds, beating Johnson’s previous long-standing record and grabbing all the attention Saturday afternoon in front of scouts and coaches, eager to see his blazing speed up close and in person.
The University of Washington product was already projected to be a first-round selection in the upcoming draft, but Saturday’s performance likely helped solidify that belief. Speed is, after all, a mouth-watering attribute for teams. But, as Ross learned last summer, learning how to use it is even more important.
Following knee surgery that erased his sophomore year, Ross, a native of Long Beach, Calif., received a phone call with his hometown’s area code. It was from Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson, his mostly physical equivalent, who invited him down to Los Angeles to train for a few days on a whim.
For those that have seen Jackson’s highlight-reel touchdowns, it’s easy to overlook that he possesses more than the ability to sprint downfield. As Jackson has progressed as a receiver in the league, he has utilized his speed and quickness in multi-dimensional ways, tricks he offered to Ross in their training sessions.
“It helped a lot because he showed me how to control my speed, how to calm down and just relax and have fun,” Ross said. “Before, I just figured, I am faster than this guy, I can just outrun this guy. All the time, that don't work. For example, if you are going up against a great corner like [teammates] Sidney Jones or Kevin King, those guys will defeat the speed with good technique. It was good for me to get into with DeSean and learn how to use it and when to use it and when to turn it on and when to turn it off.”
In essence, Ross was running without a purpose or a plan – his speed overshadowed any need for technique throughout high school. But as he progressed through college, he realized that his key attribute couldn’t be the only tool that would let him succeed.
“As you get older, a lot of people get faster and a lot of people get smarter,” Ross said. “You just can't run past everybody. People's techniques change and everyone gets better.”
Ross has prided himself on lining up anywhere on the field, and proved his knee was fully healthy last year collecting 81 receptions for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns while earning All-Pac 12 honors.
Ross would still like to add more physicality and strength to his game – as a way to beat defenders off the line and prevent more injuries from cropping up. He is slated to have shoulder surgery for a torn labrum this month (he wanted to participate in the NFL Combine before any procedures) but expects to be fully healthy for the season.
“I wanted to compete,” Ross said. “I wanted to come here and enjoy this process. Not everyone can do this. Just thankful and blessed to have this opportunity.”
Like Jackson, Ross doesn’t want to be labeled into a corner throughout this draft process – considered only a speed threat – and hopes that teams can see beyond that defining characteristic even as he dazzles them with it.
Before coming to Indianapolis, Ross spoke with Jackson, who told him to have fun, relax and calm down. That didn’t appear to be challenging for Ross, who, despite not participating in any other drills after the 40-yard dash Saturday, is confident that his game film and interviews will indicate his versatility.
“I didn't just want to be just a speed guy. I wanted to use my speed to help me get better in different ways,” he said. “So that is what I did. Focus less as a speed guy and run just intermediate routes and just playing better than what people thought I would.”