Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin says John Ross is not on the trading block.
Reports surfaced Tuesday that the team was seeking to trade the 2017 first-round draft pick and would be listening to offers at the NFL Combine this week in Indianapolis.
Tobin was asked about Ross during a 15-minute session with media Wednesday at the Indiana Convention Center, where events surrounding the Combine take place through Sunday. The Bengals’ executive said he didn’t know where those rumors came from but called them “fake news.”
“We have had no discussions internally or externally on John Ross, so I don’t know where that came from,” Tobin said. “That’s out of the ready, fire, aim school of journalism, I guess. But it’s fake news maybe is the best way to put that. But we have had no discussions, and that’s not in our plans.”
Tobin didn’t directly answer questions about whether he had spoken to Ross since the reports surfaced but said he didn’t see a need to “do much damage control.” He seemed to be hinting at the idea the rumor might have come from Ross’ agent.
“I think sometimes you do (reach out to the player); I think the player a lot of times will reach out to you, or a player’s agent, if they are not the ones that put it out — I don’t know,” Tobin said with a laugh. “But we try to be open and honest with our players and if there is a chance we are going to be trying to move somebody, we try to give a heads up to the guy so he’s not blindsided.”
Teams have called to find out if the Bengals were shopping Ross, according to Tobin, but he has told anyone reaching out: “That’s not in the plans.”
It’s been a slow transition into the NFL for Ross, but the Bengals are not ready to give up on him yet, Tobin said. The former University of Washington standout played just 17 snaps over three games as a rookie in 2017 after struggling to adjust to the level of play and eventually getting shut down with an injury he had tried to hide from the team.
Last season he missed three games because of a groin injury and had just 21 catches on 58 targets for 210 yards, but seven of those receptions were for touchdowns.
“There are a lot of flashes almost on a daily basis in practice,” Tobin said. “He’s got to stay healthy and he’s got to keep building on his good plays. Confidence will be a huge part, and we’ll have a new offensive scheme and we’ll see how he transitions, but every receiver is going to have a transition. Every receiver is going to have a learning curve, but no, there’s nobody giving up on him yet.”
Tobin said it’s a matter of figuring out where Ross fits in with the new coaching staff’s scheme.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said he has looked forward to working with Ross since he took the job. He remembers evaluating tape of the wideout when he was coming out of Washington and Taylor had just joined the Los Angeles Rams as their receivers coach.
“He’s a very exciting player,” Taylor said. “He’s a guy you can move around and do a lot of different things with, so he’s got a very bright future with us and very excited to work with him. I know football is important to him, he’s got a lot of traits we are excited to work with. May can’t get around soon enough to be able to get our hands on some of our receivers and see what they can do in this system.”
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Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan believes there is a place for Ross in the new system, which is still being pieced together. Most of his production came in the red zone last year, which was surprising to Callahan because that kind of speed usually means more use between the 20s; however, Ross ultimately will determine his role going forward by how he performs.
Callahan also noted that some players take two or three years to make the jump from college to NFL, but it’s the coaching staff’s job to get the most out of him. He is a guy that could play inside or outside under Callahan.
“I think he’s got some ability that is rare,” Callahan said. “His speed is rare. Usually you see one of two things: either the straight-line guys that are really fast or their really quick and not very fast, and he kind of has the ability to do both. His quickness was what jumped out on tape to me more than anything. His change of direction is really good. I’m excited about finding a role for him. I think he’ll have one in our offense.”