SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. WILL THE BUCS DRAFT ROSS AT 19?
When the 2016 regular season ended with a nail-biting 17-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the season 9-7 with the first winning record since the 10-6 mark the team posted in 2010.
With success come higher expectations (it’s about time, right?).
And a lower draft position.
The Bucs are picking at No. 19, which is the lowest they’ve selected since the 2011 draft when Tampa Bay chose defensive end Adrian Clayborn 20th overall. Back in January it looked like the Bucs were going to be victims of their own success with a pick low enough that some of the draft’s premier players looked out of reach.
Now, with just roughly five weeks until the 2017 NFL Draft, it looks like Tampa Bay is in prime position to get a big-time playmaker. A quick look at several new mock drafts have at least two of the elite running backs – LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey – available at 19, along with Miami tight end David Njoku. On the defensive side, Missouri defensive end Charles Harris, UConn safety Obi Melifonwu and Washington’s Budda Baker should all be on the board when Tampa Bay is on the clock.
Any of those seven players could help the Bucs in 2017.
There is another player that could help Tampa Bay if he somehow slipped to 19. Heck, he’s even worth trading up for.
Washington WR John Ross – Photo by: Getty Images
I’m talking about Washington wide receiver John Ross – the fastest man in football.
Mr. 4.22 himself.
Why in the world would the Bucs be interested in Ross when they just got the senior version of Ross in the 30-year old DeSean Jackson in free agency? Two reasons come to mind.
The first is that Jackson won’t play forever, and if he gets hurt and misses time this year, then Tampa Bay will be back to a pedestrian receiving corps faster than you can say “here we go again – the Bucs have no speed at receiver.”
The second is the thought of opposing defensive coordinators (and the defensive backs) that are charged with the mission of trying to stop, slow down or cover Mike Evans, Jackson and Ross.
Talk about fantasy football.
Who gets doubled – the big, 6-foot-5 Pro Bowler that few corners can handle one-on-one (ask Richard Sherman)? Or the guy that just led the league with a 17.9-yard per catch average in Jackson?
Or maybe the guy in the slot that just broke Twitter on March 4 when he set a new 40-yard dash record at the NFL Scouting Combine?
I’m not saying the Bucs are going to draft Ross, or that he’ll even be there at 19 for them to consider. Ross is being picked before Tampa Bay is on the clock in most mock drafts since he blew up at the Combine.
Washington WR John Ross Mock Draft Positioning – as of March 16 No. 8 – Carolina – Chad Reuter, NFL.com No. 14 – Philadelphia – Bucky Brooks, NFL.com No. 16 – Baltimore – Charley Casserly, NFL.com No. 16 – Baltimore – Matt Miller, Bleacher Report No. 18 – Tennessee – Rob Rang, CBSSports.com No. 18 – Tennessee – Dane Brugler, CBSSports.com No. 18 – Tennessee – Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com No. 18 – Tennessee – Will Brinson, CBSSports.com No. 18 – Tennessee – ProFootballFocus.com
The only major mock draft that had Ross going to the Buccaneers at 19 is Luke Easterling’s DraftWire.com. WalterFootball actually had the Washington star fall to Denver at 20 as Tampa Bay selected McCaffrey a pick earlier.
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah had Ross slide to the Raiders at No. 24, while the Bucs took Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie at 19. In Jeremiah’s mock, he also had the team pass on Njoku, who went to Miami at No. 22, and Cook, who was drafted by Kansas City at No. 27. I don’t see that scenario happening at all.
In the most recent mock draft by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein on February 22, he doesn’t even have Ross going in the first round. Oops. I don’t see that happening, either.
Washington WR John Ross – Photo by: Getty Images
If Ross is there when the Bucs are on the clock he would be very hard to pass up – even for Cook, McCaffrey, Njoku or Alabama tight end O.J. Howard.
Can you imagine the stank eye head coach Dirk Koetter would give general manager Jason Licht in the Bucs’ war room if that happened?
This draft is deep at running back and tight end, and there are plenty of wide receivers that the Bucs like on all three days of the draft, too.
But there is only one guy that runs a 4.22 and has proven to be a damn good receiver, too. Ross had a career-high 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns while leading the Huskies to the college football playoffs, and also added a score on a 32-yard end around in a 35-28 overtime win at Arizona, and another on a 92-yard kickoff return against Rutgers.
“All you have to do is say the word ‘speed’ when you’re talking about John Ross,” said Washington defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake, who used to coach Tampa Bay’s secondary. “He has something you just can’t coach or teach, and that’s pure speed. He has explosive speed. Every day in practice I would tell our DBs, ‘John Ross is not going to ruin my day.’ He was double-teamed no matter what. If you don’t have a safety over top of him – I don’t care who you have on him – he’s going to blow by your corner. And we have some great corners. He has unmatched speed. It’s so rare.”
Ross was battle-tested in practice every day, going up against the likes of former first-round pick Marcus Peters, and Sidney Jones and Kevin King – two other Washington corners that should be drafted before the third round. All of those Huskies corners are big, physical players that helped the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Ross learn to get off the jam quick.
“He’s stronger than he looks and he bulked up, too,” Lake said. “Ross tore his ACL two years ago and he redshirted. During that whole year off he really bulked up and put on some good weight. He really polished his route running, too. I think he would admit that before the injury he was unpolished. Now he’s not a one-trick pony where he’s just running go routes. Now he can run in-cuts and comebacks and curls and slants. If somebody wants to blow the top off a defense, which I think every offensive coordinator would love to have, John Ross is your guy.”
“It helped a lot because he showed me how to control my speed, how to calm down and just relax and have fun,” Ross said. “Before, I just figured, I am faster than this guy, I can just outrun this guy. All the time, that don’t work. For example, if you are going up against a great corner like [teammates] Sidney Jones or Kevin King, those guys will defeat the speed with good technique. It was good for me to get into with DeSean and learn how to use it and when to use it and when to turn it on and when to turn it off.”
After his introductory press conference I asked Jackson about his relationship with Ross and the comparison NFL talent evaluators between the two speedsters.
“He’s definitely comparable to me, knowing him for the past couple of years, working out with him and mentoring him,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen him put in the work and go out and be one of the best at what he’s doing. Last year he wanted to be one of the best wide receivers in college and he went out and backed that up. He put up the numbers and had one heck of a year. Not only that, but he went to the Combine and he went off the charts with a 4.22. Who thought that was possible?
Washington WR John Ross – Photo by: Getty Images
“I’m very fast, but he’s crazy fast. Not only is he fast, he has the intangibles to be a great wide receiver, too. Hopefully he’ll go to a team that will fit his skills and he’ll go on to have a great career.”
And what if that team is Tampa Bay? At the very least Ross could help the team’s worst-ranked kickoff return team as a rookie. He returned four kickoffs for touchdowns.
The Bucs have some questions about his medical past as Ross has had a torn meniscus in one knee, a torn meniscus in the other knee, in addition to a torn ACL that required microfracture knee surgery. Ross just had surgery on March 14 to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. But if his medical reports from the Combine check out okay, he might be a player that Licht might want to consider trading up to get – or certainly select at No. 19.
Jackson got a big smile on his face when I asked him what it would be like if Ross was drafted by the Buccaneers.
“That would be crazy, bro!” Jackson said. “I would love to play with him. That would be crazy, but in this business you never know. It would be crazy. The sky is the limit for this offense if that happens with me, Mike Evans and John Ross. It’s just a fantasy, but if that ever happened it would be absolutely crazy!”
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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