It’s the first day of the Bengals’ organized team activities and Tyler Boyd sprints over to fellow wide receiver John Ross after making a sweet catch during 11-on-11 drills.
Boyd stops in front of Ross, flashes a bright smile, slaps his helmet and bellows loud enough for everyone on the sun drenched practice fields to hear.
“That a way baby, play fast,” Boyd says.
Fast. That is one way to describe Ross, the Bengals’ third-year wide receiver, who the team selected with its first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Ross earned that after showcasing elite 4.22 speed at the 2016 NFL Combine.
Early on in OTAs, Ross has already shown the fluidity as a receiver in head coach Zac Taylor's system that made him so enticing to the Bengals.
The 24-year old Ross figures to be all over the field as a threat, a decoy and a dynamic weapon who helps keep opponents on their heels and allows the Bengals’ offense to zig when the defense zags.
A look back at some of the best images for wide receiver John Ross in 2018.
"I love it,” Ross said about the new offense. “I think it will play to all of our strengths. We all complement each other really well in a way that will be hard to defend with everyone on the field."
The Bengals remain excited about Ross and his potential. But they also know when a player isn’t playing fast enough, most of the time he is overloaded with information. That’s where a guy like Boyd comes in to help provide a road map to success.
“With John he's still thinking,” Boyd said. “He's thinking and then he reacts. I feel like once he gets comfortable and makes plays he'll be fine. He's just got to cut it loose. He's a great player. He runs his routes clean and he's the fastest guy in the league. Once it comes to him and he can just react, it'll be like a hot knife through butter.”
Boyd’s success story from 2018 reminds many observers of successful NFL receivers who took two-plus years to develop into productive receivers. Recently guys like Davante Adams in Green Bay, Sterling Shepard with the New York Giants and the New York Jets’ Quincy Enunwa have all made similar jumps progressing from year two to three. The 24-year old Boyd enjoyed a breakout third season in Cincinnati tallying 76 receptions for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns.
For Boyd, experience, trust and not overthinking the game matter the most.
“Once you feel like the coaches trust you, you then can run things how you want to run it,” said Boyd. “You are supposed to run a route a certain way, but if the leverage isn't right, you have to figure out a different way to get the job done. I felt like that came to me quicker. I understood defenses better, the leverage and how to attack a guy to get where I need to be. Getting that confidence and having the coaches’ trust in me helped me play fast. Coaches want John to play fast. He's got to be in that comfort zone and cut it loose."
Similar to Boyd’s first two years with the Bengals, Ross’ early NFL career has been slow to develop. In his second season Ross caught 21 passes for 210 yards and seven touchdowns, with five of those touchdowns coming on throws six yards or less. After being limited to 17 snaps in 2017, Ross continues not to dwell on the past, but instead look toward the future with a positive outlook.
"I felt like my year one was last year because I played 17 plays my first year,” Ross said. “It was just get in there and run around a little bit. Last year I got a lot of reps and got good experience. It is almost like I got a redshirt year. I got the gist of things and now I know what to look for."
It can be a lot to ask of the team’s 2016 first round pick. But Ross' playmaking ability and versatility make him an attractive weapon in Taylor's offense.
The Bengals coaches aren’t babying Ross either. They’re doing all they can to maximize him and fully coach him up so when opponents respond, Ross and company will be able to respond right back.
Ross believes the combination of coaching, the system and an individual’s own work ethic help a lot of NFL receivers develop into top-tier players.
"I feel like it can be a little mix of experience and the system that you are in,” said Ross. “Some people are blessed to be in systems that fit them well. Others are just naturally talented. To me there's so many things that go into it, it's hard to pinpoint one thing. You've got guys like (Minnesota’s) Adam Thielen whose progression is completely different than a lot of guys and he was a top five receiver last year. It can happen for anybody at any time no matter where you are at or who you are.”
Ross definitively knows there’s an opportunity for him to enjoy great success. He’s focused this offseason on building his base not only physically, but mentally for the demands of the season. The day-by-day, positive approach has served him well with the new staff. Now, Ross is building upon that and accepting the challenge.
“It depends on how hard you work and the chances you get and how well you grasp onto the opportunity,” said Ross. “You have to be placed in the right spot, show how hard you work and be ready to do what you do day-by-day."