Over the next few months, we’ll be looking at prospects in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft from a decidedly Cowboys point of view. Taking the Cowboys current personnel, draft position, scheme, and needs into consideration; defensive line, linebacker, defensive backs, as well as complementary offensive pieces at wide receiver, tight end, and perhaps right tackle, we hope to profile the majority of the potential prospects that could realistically end up as Cowboys within the first two rounds. Once the “official visits” start to leak we’ll add prospects that are possibilities in the later rounds.
#1 - John Ross - Wide Receiver - Washington - 5-11, 190
Games Watched: Colorado, Oregon, USC, Arizona St., California
Pros: Top deep-threat receiver in the draft. Legitimate sub-4.4 speed (maybe closer to 4.3 than 4.4 even), he should be one of the fastest players in the league from Day 1. Excellent balance and body control, although at times it looks like he’s too fast for his own good as he will stumble, either running a route or after a catch, for no particular reason. Able to start/stop on a dime, gets to top speed very quickly with great acceleration. Electric run after the catch ability. Does an excellent job of tracking deep balls in the air and making over the shoulder catches, similar to DeSean Jackson. Willing to take hits over the middle to secure catches in traffic, tougher in that regard than his size would suggest. Explosive in and out of his breaks. At times you see opposing defensive backs almost fall over when they’re in press coverage and try to keep up with his release. Generally reliable hands and does a nice job of securing the ball away from his body, although lapses in concentration lead to drops of easy catches at times. Lined up both outside and in the slot, and ran a variety of routes including quick outs, shallow crosses, stops/comebacks, slants, fades, and fly’s. Probably the best kick returner in the draft with four career touchdowns, lacks punt return experience though.
Cons: Significant injury concerns as he sustained two separate injuries, one to each knee (one required microfracture surgery and the other was a torn ACL). Currently has a torn labrum that will require surgery after the Combine, although he expects to be ready for training camp. Slight frame and size could limit his potential as a “number one” receiver. Not a very physical player, will likely struggle with bigger cornerbacks in press coverage. About 41% of his receiving yards in 2016 came in just 3 of 14 games, he disappeared at times. One-year wonder? Only 579 yards and five touchdowns receiving over the 2013 and 2014 seasons combined, he sat out 2015 due to injury, then had a monster 2016 season. Could stand to become more polished as a route runner, particularly in terms of getting in and out of his cuts tighter on certain routes.
Conclusion: One of my biggest concerns with the Cowboys offense going into 2017 is that there is no game-breaking vertical threat in the passing game. Dez Bryant is an elite receiver, but teams don’t fear his speed, they fear his leaping ability and physicality on jump balls, slants, and the sort. Cole Beasley and Jason Witten are “possession” type targets who primarily catch passes inside 10 yards, and Witten clearly isn’t getting any younger. Terrance Williams has good, but not elite speed, although he is a free agent and every Cowboys fan knows how inconsistent he is. As much as I love Beasley and Witten, this offense needs more juice down the field that defenses must respect. Enter John Ross.
Ross fills that need in spades and brings an added dimension that this offense hasn’t had for years, maybe going all the way back to Terry Glenn in the mid-2000’s. Of course the real concern for me are the injuries, and to a lesser extent the fact that there are very few “number one” type receivers in the league that are below 6-0. The vast majority of elite receivers in the league are 6-2+, so just playing the odds would tell you that the ceiling for a player like Ross is an elite deep threat/number two type of receiver, much like the aforementioned DeSean Jackson. Sure he could turn into Antonio Brown, it just isn’t likely. He is a bona fide first-round prospect, he just isn’t in the same class as someone like Corey Davis, in my mind at least.
After taking all that into consideration, to me Ross is a back-up plan at 28, he should clearly be in the conversation but if one of the top DE’s or CB’s are there that is the likely direction. It must also be noted that if Williams is re-signed or if another veteran receiver is brought in via free agency to replace him (Pierre Garcon, etc.), then that probably takes Ross out of the running at 28 all together.
I do not have access to coach’s film or anything of that nature, I just watch plenty of football (television broadcast version) and go off what I see out of a prospect. I started this odd fascination of mine in 2011 when I sent my breakdown and links to videos of Tyron Smith at USC to the excellent Cowboys blogger Bob Sturm (April 28, 2011 - Even More Tyron Smith Tape). Since then I’ve continued watching prospects closely, but I’ve never taken the initiative to actually formally write my thoughts until I became a writer for BTB. I hope that I can provide an interesting, and accurate perspective on prospects from a Cowboys-centric point of view.
Special thanks to DraftBreakdown for posting the videos that help provide a more in-depth look at this year’s prospects.