John Ross’ life changed in 4.22 seconds.
That was the wide receiver’s time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, breaking the record of 4.24 seconds set by Chris Johnson in 2008.
“I was thankful for the attention because it was positive,” said Ross. “I think it got me a little more notice – not just from fans but from teams.”
“4.22 – enough said,” said NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and the Bengals finished the sentence Thursday night when they took him with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.
But the downside to that attention is that people assume that Ross is strictly a deep threat, despite having 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns last season at Washington.
“I still feel like I fight that every single day just because people don’t believe in me in that way,” said Ross. “Just revert back to the film. A lot of my touchdowns were in the red zone and a lot of teams took away the deep ball with cover two coverage. In our offense that made us convert a lot of our routes, so it made me hone in on the intermediate routes and work harder on that aspect of the game.”
“It’s impossible not to talk about his speed when he ran the fastest 40 time ever right?” asked Bengals receivers coach James Urban. “But he can stop – that’s equally important. If you can go that fast and stop and transition…then you have the ability not to just go over the top but to separate underneath. That’s where he jumps out on film.”
Ross visited Paul Brown Stadium two weeks ago to visit with Bengals coaches and came away thinking that he could be drafted by Cincinnati.
“I 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 told him, ‘Don’t be surprised on draft day if the phone rings and I’ll be a Cincinnati Bengal.’
“I expected to go in the top ten. I felt like I have top ten talent. I felt like the only thing that was holding me back was the speculation about my injuries.”
Ross missed the 2015 season with a torn ACL and had surgery after the Combine to repair a labrum tear in his shoulder. The 21-year-old says he’s on schedule to be ready for training camp and the knee injury obviously hasn’t slowed him down.
“I feel like after I tore my knee I got much faster,” said Ross. “I started to work on leg muscles that I didn’t get a chance to work on before and my trainers kept telling me, ‘You’re going to be faster.’ I kept looking at them like they had something on their face because that just didn’t sound right.”
Those trainers were proven right when Ross posted his record 40-yard dash time at the Combine and it could have earned him a highly unusual prize.
Adidas had offered an island to any prospect that broke Chris Johnson’s record while wearing the company’s cleats and then agreeing to endorse Adidas shoes. Ross was wearing Nike shoes and says he doesn’t regret it.
“Not at all,” he said. “Nike is an amazing brand and I’ve been wearing Nike all of my life. I feel like the island was for people who were focused on something that seemed unattainable. That wasn’t my goal or my focus. My goal was to go in and compete and to run the fastest time at the combine.”
Despite his record-setting sprint in Indianapolis, Ross is not a former track star. He only ran track for one year in high school before quitting the sport.
“This might sound funny, but I definitely didn’t like running,” said Ross. “I felt like in track they had us out there running for no reason and it didn’t seem fun.”
But it’s very enjoyable on the way to the end zone.
“It feels good to know that you can run by people and not be caught,” he said. “I think it’s something that everybody would like. I’m thankful.”
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