Orchard Lake St. Mary's linebacker Josh Ross followed in his brother James' footsteps when he announced his commitment to Michigan yesterday morning. The younger Ross showed strong interest in the Wolverines since he emerged as a freshman starter at OLSM; such strong interest, in fact, that according to Steve Lorenz other coaches saw his commitment as a foregone conclusion:
Well over two seasons ago, a coach on another staff offered Ross. When I asked them about their belief in their chances, the answer was pretty simple.
"He's going to Michigan," they said. "We just really like him and his family, so we offered so I could keep in contact with them."
With Ross, it was never really a matter of who he was going to choose, it was when.
In spite of this, Ross put together one of the more impressive offer sheets in the Midwest. He's Michigan's sixth commit in the 2017 class, the first at linebacker, and the third from in-state, joining Oak Park OT JaRaymond Hall and Brother Rice TE Carter Dunaway.
4*, #10 ILB,
4*, #9 OLB,
4*, 81, #11 OLB,
4*, 92, #6 ILB,
4*, #7 ILB,
While the four sites are split as to whether Ross is an inside or outside linebacker, they're generally in concordance on his ability—all have him in the 150-250 range overall. Ross is a good prospect who's not quite in the elite tier.
There's most disparity regarding his size. Rivals lists him at 6'0", 219 pounds; ESPN at 6'1", 220; Scout and 247 at 6'2, 225.
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While every recruiting site has Ross is a similar range rankings-wise, there's some disparity in the evaluations. I've seen Ross play on several occasions over the last three years, so I'll start with what I've seen with my own eyes. Out of the three scouting reports I've written on Ross, this one from last fall is the most representative:
It's easy to see why Ross, who's now listed at 6'1", 225, has been highly regarded for so long. He's an impressive athlete for a player of his size, able to explode through gaps to disrupt plays. He's at his best when his assignment called for him to shoot a gap; he's too quick for guards to get their hands on him a lot of the time and when he builds momentum he can blow up lead blockers.
The issues arise when Ross has to read and react. If he hasn't built up a head of steam, too often he finds himself caught up in the wash, or in some instances even blown off the ball (3:29 is a notable instance of this). He hasn't learned how to use his hands to disengage from blockers yet, so instead of shedding and making tackles he'll lunge to one side or the other, which opens up lanes. He needs to get stronger and refine his technique.
In our group chat, Brian mentioned Ross looks miscast as an inside linebacker, and he'd be better suited playing SAM in Michigan's system, much like his brother. I agree; that would better suit his combination of size and athletic ability while mitigating his issues in tight quarters. He's also really disruptive when he flies up that A-gap—he timed his blitzes well and came away with a huge sack on fourth down—so if he bulks up and learns how to use his hands, I could see him sticking inside, as well. Ross has a ways to go to live up to the hype, but the raw tools are there for him to reach his lofty ceiling.
Josh isn't as instinctual as his older brother was at the same stage. That's not a huge knock on him; James is the best read-and-react linebacker I've seen in the state over the last five years. Josh's trouble getting past blockers is mostly based on technique, which can be worked out with good coaching, and there's disagreement among scouts as to whether it's a big issue for him in the first place.
Scout's Allen Trieu said Ross "takes on blockers with the best of them" when ranking him as the #2 OLB in the state. I'm assuming Trieu had a heavy hand in writing Scout's free evaluation:
EvaluationPhysical linebacker who is best when coming forward. Takes on blocks with aggressiveness and leverage and likes contact. Anticipates well and shoots gaps. A sure tackler who wraps up and drives through the ball carrier. Can continue to get quicker and improve in pass coverage.
- Shedding Ability
- Tackling Technique
Areas to Improve
- Pass Coverage Skills
While I thought Ross has been prone to taking poor pursuit angles, that didn't show when he had a standout performance at last summer's Sound Mind Sound Body camp, per 247's Steve Wiltfong:
Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary’s Top247 linebacker Josh Ross was the best at his position, a fundamentally sound player that always squares his hips and takes a great line to the ball carrier. In cat and mouse drills Ross always made a play in the open field and he could cover as well.
Wiltfong also said Ross was "arguably the best player at his position" at the Opening regional in Columbus.
ESPN's Gerry Hamilton provided a post-commitment scouting report that falls in line with what I've seen of Ross:
No. 162 Ross is a sideline-to-sideline outside linebacker prospect and knock-back hitter, but needs to continue to work on being a fundamentally sound tackler. His athleticism and range are his calling cards, but he does show the ability to diagnose quickly and fill fast. Adding muscle mass to his frame, being sound as a tackler and improving angles will be key in his ability to maximize his ability at the next level.
Of note: ESPN's main scout sounds the most critical of Ross, yet ESPN has him ranked higher than any other site. That's not necessarily hypocritical; with his frame, athleticism, and physicality, Ross has a ton of potential—more than his older brother if he puts it all together. That's apparent in an in-game evaluation by The Wolverine's Tim Sullivan from OLSM's state championship win over Chelsea last fall:
After a couple years of seeing Ross suit up for the St. Mary’s varsity, it’s fair to say that this was one of the most impressive games we’ve seen out of him. Like his older brother James, his height (around 6-1, a bit taller than big bro) isn’t ideal, but his football instincts and physical abilities are. He’s got a longer, leaner build than James, and has plenty of room to add weight by the time he reaches the next level.
Other than the differences in build, Ross looks extremely similar to his brother in the way they play the game. Instincts and athleticism allow him to be in the right place at the right time, and he packs a wallop when he arrives to the ball-carrier.
His diving interception was a thing of beauty, and – as good a high school player as James was – probably something his older brother didn’t have the length to pull off. He also had one big tackle for loss where he knifed into the backfield (on what appeared to be a play that he read, not a designed blitz) through a gap on the opposite side of the center to slam the running back down.
If Ross gets his pursuit angles down and learns how to better pick his way through traffic, he has the ability to be a similar player as his brother—who may not have made the expected impact but played well when he got the chance, especially when blowing up lead blockers on the edge—but with more size and upside. James Ross would've been an ideal ILB in Don Brown's system—Brown isn't deterred by undersized ILBs—and Josh Ross has the chance to be outstanding in his defense.
Ross holds offers from Arizona, Arkansas, Baylor, Cincinnati, Iowa State, Louisville, LSU, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Pitt, Tennessee, and Washington. That's an impressive list for a Midwest prospect, especially considering Ross was a strong Michigan lean from the jump.
Orchard Lake St. Mary's, the back-to-back defending Division 3 state champions, probably requires little introduction. In addition to the Ross brothers, the school has produced five other four-star prospects in the Rivals era (2002-present), including Morgan Trent and Dion Sims. Ross' 2017 teammate, WR/CB KJ Hamler, is another of the top prospects in the state and an MGoBlog favorite known around these parts as Speedy Eaglet.
A team captain and three-year starter, Ross racked up 110 solo tackles and 64 assists, with 8.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles, three recoveries and four interceptions.
It should come as little surprise that Ross made their 2015 Dream team.
FAKE 40 TIME
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Ross is likely headed for a redshirt to bulk up and get his head around the defense; since he attends OLSM, it's very unlikely he'll be able to enroll early. After his presumed redshirt, he'll compete with a big group of mostly young guys for a spot on the field at inside linebacker—Jared Wangler, Reuben Jones, Devin Bush Jr., Devin Gil, and Elysee Mbem-Bosse should all provide competition. As one of the highest-regarded prospects among the bunch, Ross has a chance to break through and see the field as early as his redshirt freshman season.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
With only six commits in the fold and 17 spots already set to open without the inevitable attrition, Michigan probably isn't finished at any position except quarterback, where they have the nation's top pro-style prospect in Dylan McCaffrey. Here's the class as it currently stands: