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Cincinnati Bengals get speedy WR John Ross with No. 9 overall pick

By Jeff Wallner, The Sports Xchange
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Cincinnati Bengals get speedy WR John Ross with No. 9 overall pick
John Ross poses for photographs with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals as the ninth overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft at the NFL Draft Theater in Philadelphia, PA on April 27, 2017. The 82nd NFL Draft returned to Philadelphia for the first time in more than 50 years and runs from April 27-29. Photo by Derik Hamilton/UPI | License Photo

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals didn't expect to have most of their top targets still available at the No. 9 pick in the NFL draft on Thursday.

They could have addressed a major need on the defensive line, added depth at linebacker or even tight end. Instead, the Bengals went with who they felt was the best player still on the board: University of Washington receiver John Ross.

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Ross made history in March when he ran a record-setting 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. One scout told USA Today that he clocked Ross at 4.16 seconds.

"This guy's role kind of jumps out at you with his speed," offensive coordinator Ken Zampese told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "The thing that jumps out at you as well is that he's a technician. He takes great pride in his craft, getting in and out of breaks, not a lot of wasted motion. He transitions very well."

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While Ross could be construed as an out-of-the-box pick for the Bengals considering the players still available and the team's depth at receiver, he does fill a need. A.J. Green had 964 receiving yards and four touchdowns despite a late hamstring injury, and Brandon LaFell had a solid first season in Cincinnati, with 862 yards and six TDs. But, neither has the capability to consistently stretch a defense.

The Bengals drafted speedy Cody Core in Round 6 last year and he showed improvement late in the season, but Ross could make each of them better with his ability to go over the top.

Ross, a second-team All-American, had 81 catches, 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns, which tied for second nationally. The pick also carries some risk.

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Ross had surgery after the season to repair a torn labrum he managed to play through. He should recover fully.

"I am right on schedule," Ross said. "I will be cleared in July and I will be ready for training camp."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told local reporters it's more likely Ross will be ready by the start of the season.

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Ross also had multiple knee injuries during his college career, but Lewis said he passed the team's rigorous pre-draft medical evaluations with no issues. "If you can jump through the hoops and pass our medical, that's pretty good," Lewis said.

There also are questions about Ross' height. At 5-foot-10, he's among the shortest wide receivers ever drafted by Cincinnati. According to Bengals.com, he's just the third Bengals receiver under 6-foot during Lewis' tenure. But, it's his play-making ability, both down the field and laterally in the red zone that has impressed the Bengals' staff.

Cincinnati struggled in the red zone most of last season and Ross could help with that. He also will take pressure off both Green and tight end Tyler Eifert by drawing safety help up top. So, despite his injury history and smaller stature, Ross gives Andy Dalton and the Bengals' offense an added dimension and some explosiveness that has been lacking.

"My head almost came off my shoulders," Ross told local reporters via conference call from the draft in Philadelphia. "I felt like I was a top-10 player, but I know there were concerns about my injuries."

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