BECAUSE THREE LINEBACKERS SIMPLY ISN'T ENOUGH!!! MI LB James Ross has become Michigan's 8th commitment in the 2012 class, and the fourth linebacker. His announcement is happening live on WTKA as we speak (...er, I post?)
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The sites, they like this guy. In fact, I'd go so far as to say he's probably the consensus top recruit in Michigan's class right now - he and Royce Jenkins-Stone are typically listed right near each other in-state, but 24/7 Sports is much higher on Ross.
Scout and 24/7 say James is 6-1, but Rivals and ESPN say 6-0. Having seen the kid play in person several times, I would say 6-0 is more likely to be the accurate number. He's also listed between 209 (Rivals) and 217 (ESPN) pounds, with the middle votes cast at 215. Going with the majority, 215 seems to be the appropriate number.
Though none of the premium sites offer evaluations, Scout has a couple free articles talking about his game. The first:
Ross has been as dominant a PAL player the city has had in recent years. He is already pretty filled out for a kid as young as he is and his footwork in drills was quick and fluid.
That's prior to his sophomore year of high school. "As dominant as the city has seen in recent years" puts him on par with or more productive than recent #1s like William Campbell, Lawrence Thomas, and Will Gholston. The next breakdown puts him in the top five most-likely candidates to be the #1 recruit in Michigan's class of 2012:
He may not wow you with pads off like a Lawrence Thomas or Will Gholston, because he does not have the size of those guys, but you put the film on and Ross is arguably the best pure football player in the state. Toughness, big hits, excellent instincts and football smarts. He has all the intangible qualities you want in a middle backer.
That seems to be the book on James: not tall enough to be a true physical specimen, but he makes up for it with his football intelligence and willingness to lay the lumber. Sam Webb's weirdly-NCAA Tournament-themed recruiting column for the Detroit News listed Ross as a 1-seed:
He has all the top colleges looking at him and he is a guy that consistently, from game to game, plays the same way every single play. He fought through injuries in his junior season and demonstrated great toughness in the process. He's 6-1, 215, with good enough speed. His best attribute, though, is he is bona fide football player. This kid thinks the game as well as anyone.
Again with the football intelligence. For the record, Michigan has landed another "#1 seed" (Royce Jenkins-Stone) and a 2-seed (Devin Funchess).
This kid's offer list is something to get very excited about. We'll slowly build, starting with some of his less-notable BCS offers. Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Missouri, Pittsburgh, and Purdue are some of the middling programs that have offered this kid.
Then, there are the schools that have either had excellent success on the field or on the recruiting trail, specifically with linebackers: Arizona State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, and USC. The latter three all have legitimate claims to some sort of mythical "Linebacker U" distinction, and are keynote offers.
He also had interest but no offers from Alabama and LSU, which would have really sealed him as a top prospect.
Scout has numbers from his sophomore year (though they're listed with the wrong dates):
103 tackles, five sacks, five forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and an interception in his first year of high school football.
I haven't seen any more recent stats for him, but I'll be on the lookout.
FAKE 40 TIME
None of the recruiting sites have listed a 40 time for James, so I get to give out my default five FAKEs out of five.
There's also a partial sophomore reel, completed in part 2. You can also catch some glimpses of him in last year's Friday Night Lights feature on Chris Rock. He's fullback/tight end/linebacker #6 in red.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
So Michigan has all these linebackers in the past couple classes, and though James seems to be one of the 2012 guys who's most ready to play immediately, all the new depth might mean he doesn't have to. If the coaches want to get the kid on the field, special teams and mop-up duty are an option.
Following a couple years of duty as a special teams and depth player, James should be able to work his way into the lineup as a junior (possibly a redshirt junior), and even have a star turn or two. By the time he leaves Ann Arbor, he could be a multi-year all-conference player. He has NFL potential, as long as teams aren't scared away by his lack of height.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
OK, now they really have to be done accepting commitments from linebackers, right? The position is filled with two exceptional recruiting classes over the past two years. Although, especially given the haul in 2012, some of last year's guys may be due for position switches.
After the coaching staff picks up a couple defensive linemen, another good offensive lineman or two, and a quarterback, they should have the luxury of being very picky about who they pursue, and only going hard after the top guys.