John Ross III explodes onto NFL Draft radar with three big-play TDs in rout
Ross notched two receiving TDs and another on a return in his first game back from knee injuries
The Washington Huskies have been touted all summer long as one of the potential sleeper national title contenders, with several members of the defense and a young QB-RB duo of Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin earning most of the fanfare.
With a three-touchdown outburst against Rutgers Saturday, redshirt junior wide receiver and returner John Ross III proved that he, too, deserves special attention, helping the Huskies cruise to an easy 48-13 victory over the Scarlet Knights that, frankly, wasn't as close as the final score indicated.
In his first game back since suffering two separate knee injuries, the 5-foot-11, 196-pound Ross caught five passes for a game-high 90 yards and two scores and returned a kickoff 92 yards for another touchdown, showing off the mercurial speed that previously had led scouts to compare him to former Pac-12 (and NFL) star DeSean Jackson.
Optimism was high that Ross, a honorable mention All-Pac-12 returner, would return to his playmaking ways after he was clocked at an eye-popping 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash by Washington coaches.
He wasted little time in doing so, slipping past Rutgers cornerback Isaiah Wharton to haul in a perfectly placed deep ball from Browning for a 38-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. Ross needed only two plays on Washington's next drive to better himself, this time hauling in a 50-yard pass off a deep post, giving the Huskies a commanding 24-0 lead before the end of the first stanza.
When Rutgers answered with a second-quarter field goal, Ross responded with the hat-trick score, this time fielding a kick at the eight-yard line, zipping upfield through traffic, juking the one Scarlet Knight defender with an angle on him and somersaulting his way into the end zone after being tripped up at the five-yard line.
Because of the injuries (torn ACL in his left knee and a torn meniscus in his right), Ross entered this season a little off the radar, checking in at just 58th among junior receivers on NFLDraftScout.com's board. He is a proven playmaker when healthy, however, scoring seven touchdowns during a breakout sophomore campaign in 2014 in which he saw time at wide receiver, cornerback as well as punt and kick returner. Even more impressive was the distance Ross traveled on those scores, which in chronological order came from 91, 20, 55, 75, 86, 100 and 96 yards, an astounding average of 75 yards per touchdown play.
As his big plays suggest, the first thing that jumps out about Ross is his straight-line speed. He accelerates in a flash, easily outracing pursuit angles. Ross also possesses great vision to set up his blocks, as well as the ankle flexion and balance to elude defenders in tight quarters.
In terms of his NFL projection, Ross needs to continue to work on his route-running, too often relying upon his straight-line speed to force defenders back. He's gained strength and technique in fighting through press coverage by battling against Washington's talented secondary each day in practice but can stand to improve in this area, as well as his consistency as a route-runner.
Ross is not as polished as some of the other top receivers in college football, and obviously NFL teams will want to do their own investigating of his health whenever Ross makes himself eligible. The first-round selections spent on fellow speedsters Phillip Dorsett (Indianapolis) and Will Fuller (Houston) in recent years, however, prove that teams are willing to gamble on dynamic playmakers, making Ross (and the Huskies, as a whole) one to watch this season.
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