|Orchard Lake St. Mary's linebacker James Ross|
James Ross, a linebacker from Orchard Lake, MI, committed to the Wolverines on Monday morning. He chose Michigan over offers from Arizona State, Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, and USC, among others.
Ross is 6'0" and 215 lbs. He's a 4-star prospect and the #2 inside linebacker to both Scout and 247 Sports, and a recent post from Rivals mods stated that he will be a 4-star on their site, too. ESPN is maybe sorta kinda thinking about ranking players. Ross had 103 tackles, 5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries and 1 interception as a sophomore. As a junior for OLSM, he notched 95 tackles, 5 sacks, 5 fumble recoveries, and 1 interception for a team that went to the state championship game in 2010.
Orchard Lake St. Mary's has been good to Michigan (and football in general) over the past twenty years. Other notable products of OLSM include former Wolverines David Bowens, DiAllo Johnson, Jermaine Gonzales, Grant Mason, Chris McLaurin, and Morgan Trent. The Eagles have sent players to Florida State, Penn State, and Ohio State recently, and Ross is the first one to choose Michigan since McLaurin in 2005.
There's essentially nothing to dislike about Ross as a prospect. Even though he's not lightning fast in a straight line, he's a true "quick twitch" athlete. Watching his feet and hips move, he has the agility of a safety. But the most impressive thing about Ross is how quickly he diagnoses plays. I'm not sure that I've seen a high school player - and certainly not a Michigan recruit - make quicker decisions and find the ball faster than Ross does. There are times when he knifes into the backfield so quickly that it almost seems as if he's blitzing. He plays on the balls of his feet and never seems to get caught flat-footed. His ability to get into his drops and flip his hips is on par with Jonas Mouton, a second round NFL draft pick a few days ago. Mouton was somewhat slow to diagnose plays, but he was superb at getting into his pass drops. Ross also has a fantastic, innate ability to make subtle movements to avoid blockers.
If I were forced to find weaknesses in his game, I would mention two things. First, he's a little bit small at 6'0" to 6'1" and 215 lbs. He could get on the field at Michigan at 225-230 lbs., so I don't think size will prevent him from being a solid college player. However, it could potentially be a drawback down the road if he becomes an NFL prospect. Second, there are times when he leaves his feet to make tackles. He flashes the ability to run his feet on contact and drive ballcarriers backward, but it's not 100% consistent. He won't get on the field for Greg Mattison if he doesn't run his feet consistently, though, so I imagine that will be fixed quickly.
I've seen comparisons made to Ian Gold, but I'm hesitant to make that particular comparison. I saw Gold play in high school; he was a fantastic running back (and sprinter), but defense wasn't really his forte at the time. Ross would probably lose to Gold in a foot race and the OLSM product is already bigger than Gold as a collegian. I don't really see a Michigan parallel, but the player Ross reminds me of is Jonathan Vilma, the former Miami Hurricane and current NFL linebacker.
Ross is the eighth player to commit to Michigan in the class of 2012. In somewhat of an oddity, all eight players have committed in pairs by position. Two offensive linemen committed within a couple days of each other (Ben Braden, Caleb Stacey), then two linebackers within a couple days of each other (Kaleb Ringer, Royce Jenkins-Stone), then two tight ends (A.J. Williams, Devin Funchess), and now Joe Bolden and Ross.
Ross was initially reported to be recruited as a weakside linebacker, but recent comments by Josh Helmholdt at The Wolverine suggest that Michigan was more recently talking to him about playing the SAM linebacker position. Personally, I don't see a 6'0", 215-pounder developing into a strongside linebacker in a 4-3 under defense, but my opinion has very little to do with what Greg Mattison does. We'll just have to see what happens. There's no question in my mind that Ross should be able to compete for playing time at Michigan within two years of getting to campus. Whether he plays at WILL, as an undersized MIKE, or as an oddly shaped SAM, this kid looks like a potential All-American.
TTB Rating: 92