It is always funny to me when players are called “just a deep threat” as a way to diminish their skill set. “Ah yes!” the very smart person says, “this player here is only good at arguably the most important play in football and thus, he is, in fact, not all that good.”
What an absurd thing to suggest that players who threaten downfield on a consistent basis are somehow not incredibly valuable assets. Of course, it takes a lot more to be a deep threat than just pure speed and folks will often lazily assign any fast player a deep threat, even if they can’t even do that. Surely you can posture that fast players “could” be deep threats, but the dynamic requires ball skills, ability to release off the line and create space vertically through savvy route running. It is a much more complicated skill set to master than many would assume for what most people assign a “one trick pony” type of ability.
Even worse than just calling a fast player who can’t do much a deep threat is calling a fast player who does everything a deep threat. While I personally think that deep threat is actually quite a good thing and don’t really worry if a player is “just” that, it does miff me when some say some more well rounded players are “just” *anything*.
This frustration comes along when people discuss Washington receiver, John Ross. The 5-10, 190 pound receiver has been a big reason for Washington’s offensive success this year and his innate ability to score touchdowns speaks to his well roundedness. Now, some may lazily refer to Ross as a one trick pony because he does not have number one receiver size and is a speedster, but Ross makes an impact between the 20s and in tight quarters enough that he deserves more praise for his overall game.
Ross, on top of being a speedster, has excellent ball skills to track the ball down field and also in terms of winning at the catch point. He is a very good route runner with great quickness who can generate separation very, very quickly through his routes. His hands are dependable in space, although he has more issues in traffic, but not for lack of effort. It is good that he is so quick because he rarely is in situations where he needs to make contested catches. After the catch, Ross has running back like skills as he runs hard and can make guys miss in the open field. Ross rarely gives up on a play and that type of effort is the reason he scores on an incredible 20% of his passes (Mike Williams scores on not even 13%). There is no doubt that John Ross is a dynamic, all around receiving threat.
Ross runs into trouble with more physical cornerbacks. While Ross himself is a fighter, it sometimes doesn’t prevent him from getting the clamps put on by bigger defenders. He has a tendency to get blanketed by such players and also his efficiency catching the ball drops off quite a bit with bodies around him. However, like I said, that type of issue is mitigated by the fact that he does such a good job separating.
NFL Comparison: Ross’ complete game reminds me a lot of Emmanuel Sanders in Denver. Neither player has elite size, but they produce with excellent athletic ability and savvy. Like Sanders, Ross is a lot more than just a deep threat and can serve as a primary option in a passing game. Ross and Sanders both have weaknesses, literally, as players, but they can be overcome as separation ability develops in the NFL.
While I do not think Ross is the top receiver in this class like quite a few, I think he is absolutely deserving of a first round pick. The dynamic he brings to the football field cannot be undervalued and he is a lot further along in his development than a lot of speedsters to come out of college. His skill set makes him pretty scheme diverse and in an Eagles offense that likes to use a lot short passes to set up for shot plays, Ross’ YAC ability and his ability to get down field make him an obvious fit. While I would not, without hesitation, spend a top ten pick on Ross, he has first round ability and will be a game changer in the NFL.