John Ross is the fastest wide receiver in the 2017 NFL Draft class. That’s no longer in question after he posted the best 40-yard dash time in NFL Combine history Saturday, blazing down the track in 4.22 seconds.
Ross is fast. That’s nothing new. But 4.22 is a level of fast that few expected to see from the Washington product.
But does he now deserve to be the first wide receiver off the board? The answer is an unequivocal and definitive ... maybe.
Ross was already a first-round pick
Combine performances — whether good or bad — are often met with rolled eyes. It seems bizarre that a player could finish his collegiate career with a certain value and then impact that positively or negatively with a workout.
But the 4.22-second 40 didn’t launch Ross into the first-round conversation; he was already there.
Sure, he measured in at only 5’11, 188 pounds, but it’s hard to find many negatives in his game. He was electric at Washington, racking up 1,150 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns in 2016.
He may struggle with more physical coverage in the NFL, but some of the league’s best receivers have succeeded at under 6’0. Odell Beckham Jr. is also 5’11, and Ross is taller than Antonio Brown and DeSean Jackson who are each 5’10.
Jackson, a second-round pick in 2009, took Ross under his wing prior to the Washington receiver’s big 2016 season.
“You’re fast, but you don’t have to use all of your speed every single time,” Ross told MMQB of Jackson’s advice. “Use your speed as a weapon, slow down sometimes. Focus on technique and that’s how you’ll beat your guy.
“It sounds so simple, but it’s not, and at first, I didn’t really understand. But DeSean and I kept talking during the season, probably two times a week, and then it just clicked. By using his advice, that’s how I took my game to the next level.”
With Jackson’s guidance under his belt, Ross torched defensive backs with jab steps and bursts of acceleration. It was enough that he was in the first-round conversation after entering the 2017 NFL Draft.
The top of the wide receiver class is lacking
Prior to the combine, Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Clemson’s Mike Williams were battling to be the top receiver off the board. But neither are considered in the same breath as former draft prospects like Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green or Julio Jones.
Both are 6’3 and have at least 25 pounds on Ross, which gives each a big advantage. But Davis didn’t participate at the combine due to ankle surgery and won’t run at his pro day either. Williams also didn’t run, saying he’ll do so at the Clemson pro day and that he isn’t worried about the possibility of a slow time.
“Jerry Rice didn't run a fast time,” Williams said. “Antonio Brown didn't run a fast time. He's the highest-paid receiver in the league right now. It's all about just playing football if you look at it at the end of the day."
Davis and Williams were both plenty productive and showed more than enough to be top receivers. But 4.22 is special. Maybe enough that Ross is in the conversation to go ahead of Davis and/or Williams.
It will depend on team needs
For now, the needs of NFL teams are fluid. Free agency will begin on March 9 and many of the most glaring needs — like the San Francisco 49ers’ lack of quarterbacks, for example — could be addressed in a big way.
But not all wide receiver needs are the same. While teams in need of a No. 1 receiver to play in the ‘X’ role could opt to take Davis or Williams, a team that wants a deep threat to pair with another starter could lean toward Ross as their top-rated receiver.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a 6’4, 205-pound monster in A.J. Green. If the team selects a receiver with the No. 9 pick, would it be more prone to take a 6’3 receiver to put on the other side or a 5’11 player who may be the fastest in the history of the NFL? The 4.22 40-yard dash makes that a question worth asking.
The results of the 2017 NFL Combine didn’t change the player that Ross is. But it did reveal that he has a gear unmatched in the NFL and that makes him a little more valuable than he was when he arrived in Indianapolis.
That extra value could be enough to make Ross the top receiver in the draft class.