Mark Clark: Will Ross stay in college or bolt for pro league?
There is no doubt that former Central High star wide receiver Justyn Ross has the talent to play professional football right now. Ross, as a freshman at Clemson University, led the National Championship Tigers in receiving.
At 6-4, 200 pounds, Ross is a man among boys. He caught 46 passes for 1,000 yards with nine touchdowns. He was at his best during the college football playoffs where he embarrassed both Notre Dame and Alabama.
Against Notre Dame, Ross caught six passes for 148 yards with two touchdowns. Against Alabama, he was better. He caught six passes for 153 yards with a 74-yard touchdown. Yes, Ross was a grown man playing against boys.
According to Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, Ross is “as good as anyone we’ve had.” Take a moment to think about that statement. Ross is better than Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, and DeAndre Hopkins – all first round draft picks.
Not one of those players matched Ross when it came to 21.7 yards per catch last season. Ross had nine yards more than Hopkins. Ross’ average was seven yards better than Watkins and it is six yards better than Williams.
If you follow football, then you understand when it is said Ross can high-point 50-50 balls. You really want to know the truth; there are no 50-50 balls when it comes to Ross. Ross has a significant advantage on those throws – more like 75-25 in his favor. He can leap better than most players even taller than him.
There is already speculation that Ross will be the second player selected in the NFL Draft following his junior season at Clemson. The No. 1 player expected to be drafted at that time is the guy who threw the passes to Ross – Trevor Lawrence. It will be sad to see the duo separated – unless the same team can get the top two picks. That is unlikely.
There is one way the two players could remain together – again unlikely, but possible. The two could sign with an XFL team together. That would keep them together for a while at least.
The two players could play this season with Clemson and possibly contend for or win another National title. Most pundits are picking Clemson and Alabama to both go undefeated and play for the title again. Then instead of returning for their junior seasons, they could sign to play in the New XFL.
The XFL is already putting the word out that it will sign college and even high school players for the league. They have no rule preventing them from signing players before they complete their third year if college. The XFL is willing to pay $200,000 per year to those players to get them to bolt from the college ranks.
Sure Ross and Lawrence can expect bigger salaries from the NFL, but they would have to play another season of college football and risk suffering an injury that could end their careers. The two could earn $200,000 for a year and then sign to play in the NFL. They probably could negotiate a free agency deal that would allow both to continue to play together if they wanted. Which NFL team would not want the two of them?
If you think the NCAA transfer portal is busy, wait until you see the movement caused by the XFL. Young guys who have never had money will be able to get a couple of hundred thousand bucks to play instead of playing in exchange for a scholarship. The kids can put away money for college if they want while playing and still have money to spend – some-thing they lack now.
It only makes sense that college players will make the decision to turn pro for the money the XFL is offering. The same will be true for high school players with the maturity to take the step up when the possibility of college is not going to be there for them.
But the big question is how many of the elite college players – the Justyn Ross-type and Trevor Lawrence-type players will take the plunge into the professional ranks earlier than is currently allowed with only one professional league offering money and that after three years of college.
Why is there such a rule anyway? Is it to guarantee that colleges have enough quality players to fill their rosters? Is it because the NFL wants the players to mature more before risking a boat-load of money on them? The same is not forced upon college basketball players. Heck, high school players turn professional in basketball if they have the ability. Baseball players are drafted as high school players. Why is it no the same for football players?
Perhaps it will change soon. If the XFL is successful in poaching players from colleges and high schools, the NCAA and NFL will look at making changes quickly. Perhaps players will be paid to play college football. Perhaps the NFL will change its three-year rule. Perhaps Ross and Lawrence will be the trend setters and run for the XFL money. Nope, that will not happen in the case of Justyn Ross. He is far too smart for that. He understands the importance of getting his education first. He talked about his future on the day he signed with Clemson. He said his first question before deciding on a college was where do I want to be as a 30-year old Justyn Ross? Not a lot of players have a 10-year professional career, and Ross was looking beyond that.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for
The Citizen of East Alabama.