When it comes to players breaking out, no Kansas City Chiefs player had higher expectations this preseason than Justyn Ross. Chiefs Kingdom went feral over every highlight, every sliver of news regarding the 23-year-old wideout. I did not buy into the hype last offseason and certainly did not before training camp this year. I am happy to say that Ross has made me a believer. Can I get an amen?
Talent was never the question for the former Clemson standout. Instead, it was always about his health. Surgeries and multiple injuries before his first NFL snap had me (and others) doubting how he could make an impact on the field. Well, his high-point touchdown against the Cleveland Browns on Saturday is a great example of how that impact looks.
There are just some things you cannot guard. A Steph Curry three, a Dirk Nowitzki fadeaway, and a Rob Gronkowski end zone slant are just a few. A properly placed jump ball to Ross looked unguardable right there.
Ross had a solid debut in game action in New Orleans, catching his first preseason touchdown in an in-breaking route. It was his lone catch on the day, but it still started his preseason on a great note. He did not look overwhelmed and backed up what coaches and fans saw in St. Joe.
"Yeah, he's doing good. It was a redshirt year he probably didn't want to have right with the injury," head coach Andy Reid said in early August. "But he's done nice job, he had a good offseason, and then he's worked his tail off here. He just needs to keep doing that. It's how you answer the bell every day and push through it, but he's got the right mindset to do that."
I understood why fans latched on to every Ross highlight from training camp. I did the same from his preseason action. He only had six receptions for 59 yards all preseason. Those are hardly shocking numbers, but how he got those yards and caught two touchdowns is. This whip route against the Arizona Cardinals is like something out of Madden and made Kei'Trel Clark look silly.
On a Chiefs roster full of field stretchers and undersized receivers, Ross can carve out a niche role in short-yardage or end-zone situations. Reid tried to use Josh Gordon in that manner. Could Ross be deployed similarly with better results? Only time will tell, but I am optimistic about Ross making an impact in the passing game. Even general manager Brett Veach is.
“And I think halfway through the OTAs, I really think you started to see it click," Veach said during Saturday's game. "He started to get that confidence, that self-belief back and it’s continued through training camps, and we’re certainly expecting big things from Justyn this year.”
The unheralded way Ross has impressed me most is by being available. I think many wrote him off as a special teams contributor, due to his injury history and fragile reputation. But Ross has been a steady member of the punt return team, totaling 12 special teams snaps against the Cardinals and New Orleans Saints. It may not be much, but a 70 PFF grade and the team trusting him on special teams is a pleasant surprise. With Reid placing a big emphasis on special teams when evaluating roster decisions, Ross holding his own inspires confidence.
“Yeah, it’ll be a tough decision at that spot, the guys are playing well," Reid said on Aug. 23. "We just have to see – we talked to them about special teams, it ends up being a big part of it. You might be a good receiver but if you can’t help out on special teams you got a problem there, so that ends up being a part of the thing (the decision).”
Is Ross a surefire top receiver in Kansas City? Likely not, as there are more established receivers above him on the depth chart. But he has the talent and opportunity to make a mark this season in the NFL. His next snap in Arrowhead Stadium will be his first regular-season snap, and he already has fans clinging to his every move. It is me. I'm a fan.
Ross unequivocally belongs on the Chiefs' initial 53-man roster this week. The Chiefs coaching staff obviously trusts him on offense and are willing to use him on special teams. I am excited to see what Ross does in 2023 as nearly anything is possible for the wide receiver.