After his freshman season, the consensus was that Justyn Ross was destined to be the next great collegiate receiving prospect. The former 5-star recruit was coming off his best game of the season in the national championship where he put up 153 yards and a score and added in multiple highlight reel catches. Since that point, his draft stock has been in decline with some feeling underwhelmed with how his career panned out.
If you still believe that Ross can be the 2018 version of himself, then he’ll likely be one of the best values in the entire draft.
In his freshman year Ross put up 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns and averaged 21.7 yards per reception, which was the fifth-highest in the nation. He averaged 6.94 yards per route run versus single coverage, the second-highest amongst wideouts.
When faced with press coverage, Ross looked mostly comfortable with a quick release at the line and showcases an ability to make big plays. He had the most yards of any Clemson wideout against press and had 27 receptions of 15+ yards, seven more than Tee Higgins in second place. This year, he impressively caught 100% of his targets (per PFF) when faced with press coverage despite shaky quarterback play. Ross is good with yards after catch, especially for his size, although he does not have breakaway speed. His yards after contact per reception in 2018 was top 15 at wide receiver at 9.8, two slots behind Deebo Samuel.
What stood out in that Clemson offense was how efficient he was with his targets. Out of five qualified receivers on his 2018 offense, Ross ran the second-fewest routes, yet had more receiving yards than anybody on a team that included Tee Higgins, Hunter Renfrow, and Amari Rodgers. He ran over 100 fewer routes than Amari Rodgers, yet still outproduced him by over 400 yards as a true freshman. He ran over 120 fewer routes than Hunter Renfrow and out-gained him by nearly 500 yards. Another showcase of his efficiency was his stellar 4.79 yards per route run, which was amongst the highest total of any receiver in the nation.
If you dig into this year’s film, Ross mostly looked like the same receiver as previous years. He struggled in some key spots, which led to criticism, but his game didn’t exactly change aside from a slight statistical downturn. His yards per reception noticeably dipped to 11.2 this year and he only scored 3 touchdowns across 11 games. Ross saw his highest percentage of slot targets this season at 54.2% which is over 30% higher than what he saw his first two years.
In 2018 and 2019, when he lined up in the slot just 19.2% of the time, he was one of the most efficient wide receivers in the country catching 83.3% of his targets and averaging 16.7 yards per reception. It’s possible that playing in an unfamiliar area of the field impacted his efficiency, but another cause may be inaccurate quarterback play. DJ Uiagalelei struggled to find his footing as a passer, which hurt Clemson’s offense as a whole. Uiagalelei was accurate on just 50.0% of his throws which was 104th out of 138 qualified FBS QBs. On the other hand, Trevor Lawrence was accurate on 58.2% of his throws in ‘18 and ‘19 which was 57th out of 200 QBs.
The strongest area on the field for Ross has always been making plays over 20 yards. He’s accumulated more yards on throws over 20+ yards than any other part of the field with nearly 1,000 in his three years and 12 receiving touchdowns. Ross is also very strong in the intermediate area of the field, where he’s put up 47 receptions and 858 receiving yards. Part of the reason for this are his hips and footwork which allow him to create separation by quickly turning in and out of breaks. At times he possesses high-level route running skill while showcasing the ability to run a full route tree.
Obviously, one big hold up in Ross’ profile is the spinal injury that kept him out for the entirety of 2020. Ross suffered the injury during a 2020 spring practice when he took a hit from a linebacker after catching a slant. The injury Ross suffered on that hit was a congenital fusion located on his spine and he needed surgery to repair it. Ross had the surgery last June and wasn’t able to have any activity until November, where he was then able to put on a helmet and run routes on air. Aside from the spinal injury, Ross had his 2021 season abruptly ended due to a foot injury that required surgery. Before re-aggravating it, Ross had been playing through the injury for the majority of the season.
If his medicals don’t seem to be an issue with the league pre draft, then Ross will likely be drafted in rounds 2 or 3, even though he has day 1 talent. Injuries, a crowded receiver room, poor QB play, and being moved into the slot have taken some of the shine away, but Justyn Ross is still one of the most talented wide receivers in the 2022 draft class.