One of the biggest draft misses in Cincinnati Bengals history came in 2008 when they passed on DeSean Jackson to take Jerome Simpson in the second round.
Thursday night, the Bengals landed what they hope will be the second coming of Jackson in wide receiver John Ross, the University of Washington speedster who broke the 40-yard dash record at the NFL Combine with a 4.22.
“I’ve heard that comparison (to Jackson) quite a bit,” said Bengals receivers coach James Urban, who was the receivers coach in Philadelphia when the Eagles drafted Jackson three picks after Cincinnati took Simpson.
“He’s from Long Beach like DeSean, he’s a little undersized like DeSean was, extremely fast, West Coast type player,” Urban continued. “There are comparisons. Their great game-breaking speed and ability. The thing about both of them is they’re both football players. Take size away, speed away, they’re both, at the end of the day, football players. That’s what really attracted us to John.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Like our Cincinnati Bengals News Now Facebook page
At 5-foot-11, 188 pounds, Ross is just the third receiver shorter than 6 feet the Bengals have drafted in the Marvin Lewis coaching era (Jordan Shipley, third round, 2010; Mario Alford, seventh round, 2015).
He gives the Bengals a home-run threat that can line up opposite A.J. Green and take the top off defenses.
A converted defensive back, Ross caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns (tied for second most in the country) last year in his first full season as a wide receiver. He also had four kick returns for touchdowns in his three seasons at Washington.
“We’re really excited to be able to pick John Ross,” Lewis said. “He’s dynamic with his speed and play-making ability he’s showed. When you watch the tape, you feel this guy playing. He gives us another option offensively and kind of balances the field some.”
The biggest knock on Ross aside from his size is an injury history that includes a torn ACL that forced him to miss the 2015 season. He played through a shoulder injury while earning All-American honors last fall and underwent surgery last month.
“The shoulder is fine,” Ross said. “I’ll be cleared in July. I’ll be ready for training camp.”
The Bengals met with Ross at the Combine and scheduled a late visit with the wide receiver two weeks ago.
“In addition to his speed, his character stands out quite a bit,” offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said. “He has a lot of things we’re looking for. The way he goes about his business, the work ethic he has, he’s battled back from injuries. We really like him.”
Ross said he had a feeling when he left Cincinnati it wouldn’t be the last he’d see of the Bengals coaches.
“I just got that vibe when I was there,” he said. “I called my agent immediately and told him how great I felt about that job interview. I said, ‘Don’t be surprised if the phone rings on draft day and it’s the Cincinnati Bengals.”
Ross shares more than physical similarities with Jackson. The two worked out together leading up to the Combine.
“One of his family members was my dad’s friend and he connected us,” Ross said. “DeSean had heard about me already. It was long overdue. We’re from the same area. The first day we hung out it was like we were already family. And we’ve been talking ever since.”
Assuming Ross is healthy by then, he’ll share the field with Jackson for his first professional action when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Paul Brown Stadium for the preseason opener Aug. 11.