On Monday, the Kansas City Chiefs officially lost wide receiver Justyn Ross for the entire season when the transaction wire placed him on the team’s injured reserve list. Just like that, the hopes for an entire year of football were sidelined. For likely all parties involved, including the fans who were hyped to see him, it was a frustrating moment signaling the death of significant hopes and the long road ahead.
For Ross, it was yet another fall and winter defined more by his inability to suit up than his God-given ability to play the game.
These days, the specter of Ross as a dominant wide receiver seems like a fading scene more than any future projection. After all, it was 2018 when Ross broke the 1,000-yard receiving barrier as a freshman at Clemson. That was Patrick Mahomes’ first year under center, and Breeland Speaks was the Chiefs’ top draft pick. In short, it’s been a while.
Despite being sidelined before training camp even began in 2022, Justyn Ross can still be an important long-term piece for Kansas City Chiefs.
Ross has been through a whirlwind of injury frustrations and health concerns since those first two exciting years at Clemson, seasons in which he could impose his will on defensive backs in order to change the game’s outcome if targeted. In 2020, Ross sat out what would have been his entire junior campaign after having surgery for a congenital fusion on his spine/neck. During the next season, a concussion and fractured foot were responsible for ending his season early.
The injury history goes back to high school for Ross as well, just in case some fans are able to overlook the college concerns. Back in 2015, Ross tore his ACL in a basketball game that robbed him of significant time even then, so he knows the demands of rehabilitation quite well. This latest concern, a clean-up surgery to set his foot right from a college injury, is just the latest that will require time away from the game he’s so gifted to play.
Even with all of this behind him, it would be a mistake for anyone—even Ross himself—to discount his chances to be a productive member of the Chiefs going forward. In fact, he’s in an ideal situation, given his circumstances, to play an important role beyond the 2022 season.
Wide receiver is wide open
First, it’s important to note the future of the position itself is begging for someone to step up and show they can help in future seasons. On the present roster, Mecole Hardman is in the final season of his rookie deal and seems primed to hit free agency. JuJu Smith-Schuster is new to K.C. but he’s only in town on a one-year deal (for now).
Marquez Valdez-Scantling was technically signed to a three-year contract, but the framework allows the Chiefs to treat it as a series of option years after 2022. That means if MVS somehow disappoints in his first season, it will be easy for the Chiefs to move on from their decision. Even many of the team’s fringe contenders are only locked up for this coming season, names including Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Justin Watson, and Daurice Fountain.
Only Skyy Moore, selected in the second round this year, is locked up for years to come, the lone member of future depth charts for now. That means there’s room for someone like Ross to step in and claim a meaningful role since the Chiefs are going to be looking for multiple new faces next offseason.
No pressure on the learning curve
Every rookie faces the uphill climb to make it in the NFL and that’s true of every draft pick from Travon Walker at No. 1 overall in this year’s draft to Ross as a rookie free agent. While Ross is going to miss the physical reps it takes to grow in some areas, he’s also going to have a more relaxed ability to learn in other ways that could make it easier on him at this time next season.
By being a part of the team, Ross can soak in the film study, learn from positional meetings, watch closely in practice, get to know his teammates, ask questions of his coaches, and continue to build other parts of his game that might otherwise be forced to compete with the physical side. It’s not ideal, but it is making the best of a bad situation.
In short, if a rookie’s first year requires a learning curve, then at least Ross can still learn. That part has not been lost.
The best health care
Let’s not forget that the procedure which placed Ross on IR in the first place was about cleaning up another former injury. It’s in the Chiefs’ best interests to bring Ross along at the right pace for him for the long term. No one wants to thrust Ross into the lineup for the sake of some short-term gains. Instead, it’s about making sure Ross is truly ready to go when ready to give it a run at a long, productive career. To that end, the Chiefs have been lauded for their athletic training/medical staff and Ross is now going to benefit from working with a celebrated team.
It might be frustrating in the interim for Ross and his biggest fans, but another season away from the game should not cast too great of a shadow. He’s still a talented young receiver with several potential years ahead of him in the game of football. He’s also now with an organization that will build a meaningful program around his long-term health with the goal of having him compete at a time and position at which the franchise will need several players to step up. The road is still wide open for Ross for a productive future. It’s just going to take some time.