It's almost impossible for Bengals second-year wide receiver John Ross to perform any worse in 2018 than he did last year as a rookie.
Then again, it was almost impossible for Ross to slog through as poor of a rookie season as he did.
Ross, the speed demon chosen ninth overall out of Washington, spent much of his rookie year in head coach Marvin Lewis' doghouse. He played in just three games, totaled just 17 snaps, didn't catch a single pass and ripped off 12 yards on his only carry. He even fumbled in his debut after missing the season opener with a knee injury.
Ross is one of several second-year NFL players looking to bounce back after a nightmarish rookie year. Ross could mean the difference between the Bengals reemerging as an AFC North power - they won 12 games in 2015 - or falling into the division cellar and prompting ownership to clean house.
Lewis, who flirted with retirement after the 2017 season, needs his 32nd-ranked offense to wake up if he and the Bengals have any chance to compete with the Steelers and Ravens - along with the improving Browns - for division supremacy.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton needs another vertical threat opposite All-Pro receiver A.J. Green to snap back from his worst season as a pro. Dalton fell under 50 percent completion for the first time since his rookie year and posted his lowest passer rating since 2013.
Ross has the speed to emerge into a DeSean Jackson-like playmaker if he can stay healthy and prove to be reliable. His 4.22 in the 40 at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine remains the record for any draft prospect in the event's history, ahead of Chris Johnson's 4.24. With Ross, Green, and an expected breakout from second-year running back Joe Mixon, the Bengals have the potential to improve dramatically on last year's 7-9 season.
Ross admitted recently in an interview that criticism of his play last year hurt, per this Sirius XM story. He'll be given every opportunity this season to prove the Bengals weren't wrong to make him the ninth overall pick.
Here are four other second-year NFL players looking to make major strides from their rookie season:
Picked No. 2 overall, Trubisky showed glimpses of promise but otherwise labored through a rookie year in which the Bears and then-coach John Fox tried to limit the quarterback's responsibilities. Trubisky attempted the fewest passes of any quarterback who started at least 12 games. He actually attempted fewer passes than any other NFL rookie quarterback in the past 10 years who started at least 12 games - 277 attempts fewer than 2016 No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz. The coaching change from Fox to Matt Nagy, former Chiefs offensive coordinator, should open Trubisky's eyes to an entirely new world of NFL offense. Nagy is bound to be more aggressive and creative schematically than the Bears' prior offensive staff, which should accelerate the young quarterback's development. The Bears signed Allen Robinson and Trey Burton in free agency, giving Trubisky some decent weaponry around him.
Six weeks into the former Alabama defensive lineman's rookie career was all the time needed to show why Allen plummeted from potential top-five draft pick all the way to 17th. Teams that were leery of Allen's injury history probably felt validated when Allen missed 11 games to a Lisfranc foot injury as the Redskins sunk to 32nd overall last year against the run and 27th overall in yards allowed. Allen is healthy, for now, and will team with fellow 'Bama alum DaRon Payne, another defensive lineman the Redskins took in the first round (13th overall) as Washington beefed up its front line. The tandem should help open pass-rush lanes for Ryan Kerrigan and outside linebacker Ryan Anderson, another 'Bama pass-rusher who played alongside Allen and Payne in college. The Redskins should be dramatically improved on defense if Allen stays healthy and showcases his top-five talent.
The injury concerns that followed Williams from Clemson held true for his first year. The No. 7 overall pick sustained a back injury while weight-lifting during the offseason that relegated him to just 10 games and 11 total receptions. He was a complete non-factor in an offense that still managed to finish top four in total yards and 13th in scoring. Williams is built like the modern receiver - 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, a body frame that helps create separation in absence of elite speed. He's an ideal downfield target for Philip Rivers, one of the league's better open-window-throwing quarterbacks. A healthy Williams coupled with Keenan Allen (103 catches, 1,393 yards) could be one of the NFL's most prolific receiver tandems and help ease the sting of losing tight end Hunter Henry for the season to an ACL tear this spring.
Drafted 12th overall last year after an astonishing display of athleticism during the pre-draft process, the former Temple star slowly transitioned to his new role as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme employed by former Cards defensive coordinator James Bettcher. He only started three games and managed just 2.5 sacks as a rookie, raising some questions about his long-term potential and scheme fit. Reddick was already considered somewhat of a question mark given that he arrived at Temple as a safety, was moved to defensive end, and entered the league as a linebacker. The Cards' defense is now presided over by head coach Steve Wilks and coordinator Al Hocomb, and Reddick is now playing the strong side in a 4-3 scheme, which they believe will capitalize on his strengths in coverage. It's a simpler scheme based primarily on gap integrity and getting linebackers playing downhill, which should cater to Reddick's speed the way it did for Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly when Wilks was defensive coordinator with the Panthers. The scheme should also put Reddick in position to create more turnovers.