Had the NFL adopted a rule similar to the NBA that allows players to enter the league following their freshman year, we would have likely seen Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross come off the board in the first round in 2019. Instead, the 6-foot-4, 205 pounder found himself not only falling out of the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, but he went unclaimed throughout the seven-round spectacle and ended up.
So, what happened?
Ross turned in an impressive freshman season at Clemson in 2018 where he finished with 1,000 yards receiving and a 21.7 yards per reception average. He really emerged throughout the College Football Playoffs where he totaled 12 receptions for 301 yards and three touchdowns over two games as the Tigers would eventually win the National Championship. Ross did all that as a freshman while playing alongside future NFL wideouts like Tee Higgins, Hunter Renfrow, and Amari Rodgers. While he was unable to turn pro, that production had him billed as one of the blue-chip NFL prospects.
Then, in 2019, it was discovered that Ross was born with a neck issue called Klippel Feil syndrome, which is when two neck vertebrae are abnormally fused. Prior to that being revealed in 2019, Ross was 14 games into his sophomore season and had 66 receptions for 865 yards and eight touchdowns. That rare neck issue required surgery and forced Ross to miss the entire 2020 season.
"Justyn has a condition that is very rare, and to my knowledge, there is no precedent of another high-level American football player with this condition playing football," Dr. David Okonkwo, who performed the surgery on Ross, told ESPN back in 2022 before the draft. "So we were paving new road as we went through the process."
Pick Six Newsletter
Crafted By The Best NFL Experts
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
He returned to the field in 2021 but suffered a stress fracture in his left foot, which required surgery in November, further clouding his draft stock. Last season, he appeared in 10 games and caught 46 passes for 514 yards and three scores, a production-level dwarfed by his performances earlier in his collegiate career.
Those injury concerns, headlined by the unprecedented neck issue that would make him the first known player to make the NFL with a congenital fusion in his spine, seem to be why he went undrafted.
"Just need dat 1 chance," Ross tweeted during the draft. Well, he's gotten that chance in Kansas City with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. And all signs point to him making the Chiefs roster in 2023.
Last year, the Chiefs directed Ross to get foot surgery to repair a lingering injury from his final season at Clemson. It essentially gave Ross a redshirt season, staying with the team, learning the offense, and having top-notch medical care.
Ross, who scored a touchdown in the Chiefs final preseason game of 2023, prompted GM Brett Veach to break down the team's expectations for the wide receiver.
"It's been great and obviously everyone knows the fast start he had in college and then he got sidetracked by some injuries," Veach said. "Last year our training staff did a great job with him of bringing him back and giving him the time needed. "And I think halfway through the OTAs, I really think you started to see it click and he started to get that confidence, that self-belief back and it's continued on through training camps, and we're certainly expecting big things from Justyn this year."