There was a good reason why so many Washington fans that follow recruiting were ecstatic the night John Ross III verbally committed to Washington during the Semper Fi All-American Bowl. He was the kind of explosive all-purpose skill player the Huskies hadn’t seen since Charles ‘ET’ Frederick.
We don’t even have to talk about Ross as a receiver: his value alone as a return specialist has justified his scholarship, and then some. Ross is already the school’s all-time kick return leader, and he has two more seasons to absolutely obliterate all the kick return records.
Which is what makes his injury in the spring of 2015 such a heartbreaking one. Ross, who already has three returns for touchdowns in his career - and owns two of Washington’s three longest kick returns ever - was poised to be an invaluable part of Jake Browning’s arsenal while the true freshman was thrown to the wolves.
A fluke incident during spring ball ended with an injury to Ross’s knee and forced him to the sidelines last fall, derailing any plans Ross may have had to impress enough to possibly jump to the NFL in 2016.
He’s back this fall and if his combine day 4.25 hand-timed 40 is a true reflection of Ross’s current speed, Pac-12 defenses and special teams should be on red alert.
One of the biggest reasons Ross is so highly valued is not just his versatility and production - it’s his potential. Despite owning a large part of Washington’s kickoff record book, he’s barely scratched the surface as an offensive skill player. In 2014 Ross averaged nearly 22 yards a reception and scored four times. He only caught the ball 17 times. Seventeen times. For a player that is scoring receiver touchdowns at nearly a 25 percent clip, you’d think he’d command more of the ball!
It’s that kind of potential for breakout production that has UW fans salivating at Ross’s return. He scored seven total touchdowns in 2014 at an average of 75 yards per play. That’s ridiculous. Whether he’s scoring via a 100-yard return, an 86-yard screen pass or a 91-yard touchdown via bomb - that’s all Ross. He can score all those ways, and even more.
Ross has touched the football 44 total times his first two seasons outside of the return game. With his prolific nature and explosive capability, you’d expect that number to be double. And that’s the mandate handed to Washington Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith this fall: get Ross the ball.
Even if it means lining Ross in the backfield or as an H-back - getting UW’s ultimate speed merchant the rock should be right at the top of Smith’s to-do list for 2016.
When Chris Petersen talked at the recent Pac-12 Media Days about others stepping up around Jake Browning, he might as well have been talking about Ross. And if the Huskies can get Ross the ball at least 60 times this season outside returns, there's no reason he can't score at least 10 touchdowns.