Durability concerns, analysts speculated, might lead to a draft-day tumble for touted Washington Huskies receiver John Ross III.
Instead, he was picked higher than most anyone anticipated, becoming just the second top-10 NFL draft pick out of Washington in the last 13 years.
The Cincinnati Bengals selected Ross with the No. 9 overall pick in Thursday’s first round, picking the 5-foot-11, 188-pound speedster in the same position as UW’s most recent first-round receiver — Reggie Williams, who went No. 9 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2004.
Since then, only one other UW player — quarterback Jake Locker, the No. 8 overall pick by the Tennessee Titans in the 2011 draft — has been selected in the top 10. Ross becomes UW’s fourth first-round pick in the last three drafts.
“My head almost came off my shoulders,” Ross told reporters in Cincinnati when asked his reaction to being picked ninth.
Ross won Associated Press Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors after catching 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Huskies in 2016. Ross, a first-team all-conference selection, also set UW’s career record for kickoff return touchdowns with four.
A native of Long Beach, California, Ross missed the 2015 season after tearing the anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee. But his draft profile seemed to improve every week as he emerged as UW’s best receiver in 2016, stacking highlight-reel touchdown after highlight-reel touchdown for a top-five team.
The hype reached its apex at the NFL scouting combine, where Ross ran a record-setting, 4.22-second 40-yard dash, further bolstering his credibility as a first-round prospect.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said recently that concerns about Ross’ medical history — he had two knee surgeries in college and had surgery in March to repair a shoulder injury through which he played for most of last season — led some teams to drop the wideout on their draft boards.
The Bengals, obviously, were not particularly concerned by Ross’ injuries — head coach Marvin Lewis told reporters that anyone who can clear Cincinnati’s predraft medical examinations must be “pretty good.” Ross told reporters that his injury rehab is on schedule, and that his shoulder should be cleared in July and in time for training camp.
Ross said his final predraft visit was to Cincinnati, and it went so well that he phoned his agent afterward to say “don’t be surprised if I get a phone call (on) draft day and I’m a Cincinnati Bengal.”
In Cincinnati, Ross teams with star receiver A.J. Green, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, and will catch passes from seventh-year starting quarterback Andy Dalton, a three-time Pro Bowl pick.
Spotrac.com estimates the value of Ross’ fully guaranteed, four-year rookie contract at nearly $17.2 million, including a signing bonus of a little more than $10.1 million.
Three other Huskies players — cornerbacks Kevin King and Sidney Jones, and safety Budda Baker — are likely to be selected during the draft’s second and third rounds on Friday. A fourth UW prospect, defensive lineman Elijah Qualls, is mostly projected as a mid-round pick, though he could rise to third-round consideration.