In the days and weeks leading up to the NFL Draft, CardinalsSource will profile 30 draft prospects who could end up making their way to Arizona this offseason.
Player: John Ross III
Weight: 188 pounds
Arm length: 31 1/2 inches
Hand size: 8 3/4 inches
College stats: 2013: 16 receptions, 208 yards, one touchdown, 2014: 17 receptions, 378 yards, four touchdowns, 2015: (No stats, torn ACL), 2016: 81 receptions, 1,150 yards, 17 touchdowns
Strengths: Ross cemented himself as a legend of the NFL Combine this year when the Washington Huskies' product broke former Cardinals' running back Chris Johnson's long-standing 40-yard dash record by posting a 4.22-second time in the event. No one has ever run a faster time at the Combine than Ross, and it's unlikely his record will be broken soon, which makes his speed perhaps the greatest strength of any draft-eligible prospect in this year's draft. But Ross isn't just a straight-line speed type of a player. He boasts incredible elusiveness, impressive agility and outstanding quick-twitch movement skills that make him the full package at wide receiver. One of the underrated parts of Ross' skill set in our estimation is his focus, because he was often tasked with catching short passes on the run in the Huskies' scheme last season and he was able to do so quite seamlessly. For a player who's more slightly built than the other top receiver prospects in this draft, the ball still gravitates toward Ross because he's a crisp route runner and is actively engaged at using his feet to square up with the football when it's in the air. Aside from his skills as a receiver, Ross should be near the top of draft boards because of what he can bring to a team from a versatility standpoint on offense and on special teams as a returner.
Weaknesses: Unlike Clemson's Mike Williams and Western Michigan's Corey Davis, Ross doesn't have multiple buzz-worthy seasons at the college level to boast about and for teams to review prior to the draft. After making contributions to Washington's offense during the first two seasons of his career, Ross tore his ACL prior to his junior season and missed the duration of the year with the injury. Based on the numbers Ross posted as a redshirt junior and the time he posted in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, there's no question Ross worked his way back to full strength, but there are questions about whether or not he was just a one-hit wonder and whether or not he'll be able to carry over his production to the NFL when he'll be playing against defenses that can do a better job limiting his speed and collapsing on him in the open field. How will Ross respond against elite press coverage defenders? Is Ross strong enough to consistently beat cornerbacks off the ball at the point of attack using his hands? These are question marks Ross will need to answer early in his career. Additionally, what will Ross look like as a blocker? Is he capable of playing in the slot and assisting on the perimeter, or is he only going to help a team when the offense is able to get the ball in his hands in the open field? Though Ross might have the biggest upside of any of the top receivers in this year's draft, we also think he's the least likely to develop into a true, full-service No. 1 receiver.
Ross' fit: If there's one team that knows how to make use of a player like Ross, it's the Arizona Cardinals, who have had a lite-version of the player Ross is at their disposal with J.J. Nelson. An unheralded prospect out of Alabama-Birmingham, Nelson thrived in the Cardinals' offense last season and made the most of a role that called for him to complement No. 1 wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. There's no question a head coach like Bruce Arians can find a fit for Ross in the Cardinals' offense --whether it be as the deep threat tasked with taking the top off of a defense or it be as a quick-game asset who moves the chains with his speed on quick screens. Nevertheless, if the Cardinals are drafting a wide receiver early to eventually assume the role Fitzgerald has played for so many seasons, we think both Williams and Davis are better overall fits than Ross, who could still help the team, just in a different manner.