Michigan linebacker Josh Ross is tough to place in the NFL, but he does have a place at the next level.
The senior is coming off his best season in Ann Arbor where he led the Wolverines with 106 total tackles (54 solo) and also recorded nine tackles-for-loss. Ross is an instinctual player with unmatched leadership qualities and on the field, he is good at plugging gaps, dropping into zone coverage and slipping past climbing linemen to make plays.
However — while competent in all aspects — he is undersized and does not possess one elite quality to separate himself from other potential late-round linebackers.
At the NFL Combine, Ross tested slightly below average and is projected to be a high-priority free agent signing or a seventh round selection. And contrary to perception, it is actually better to be a free agent signing than one of the last picks in the draft.
Long and Payton agree that going undrafted is better for a fringe draftee because of the freedom it allows the player in selecting his potential opportunity. Instead of a team choosing a player, now the player can weigh their options and choose the best fit from a selective number of teams interested in their talents.
With that in mind, here are three potential landing spots for Josh Ross to choose from if he is not picked in the NFL Draft:
Pittsburgh Steelers (Round 7: Pick No. 226, Pick No. 242)
Ross could add some valuable depth to the inside linebacker position, and the opportunity to work with head coach Mike Tomlin and linebackers coach Brian Flores would all but guarantee the maximization of his potential.
A defensive locker room already featuring team leaders TJ Watt and Cameron Hayward would be a great fit for Ross’ personality and allow him to progress as a player on and off the field. Also, the chance to play with former teammate Devin Bush could help stabilize Bush’s erratic behavior off the field and his inconsistent play on it.
The Steelers run a similar 3-4 scheme (which will be a trend here) to the 2021 Wolverines, so the transition would be slightly easier for Ross. And remember, the 3-4 scheme allowed Ross to flash his potential and produce his best season at Michigan.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Round 7: Pick No. 249, Pick No. 262)
The Buccaneers run a 3-4 scheme with two of the best inside linebackers (Devin White, Lavonte David) at the heart of it. However, their depth leaves room for improvement. Tampa Bay is barely two-deep at this position and Ross could prove to be a valuable second- or third-string reserve.
Inside linebackers coach Larry Foote has probably watched more tape on Ross than most in the NFL because of his affiliation with Michigan. Foote is a former stand out linebacker for the Wolverines and was even rumored to be in the running for the vacant defensive coordinator position two months ago. Between Foote and defensive minded, newly-named head coach Todd Bowles, Ross would be in great hands.
Baltimore Ravens (No Seventh Round Picks)
This almost feels like cheating and has nothing to do with the Jim and John Harbaugh connection. There is no scheme Ross would understand faster than Baltimore’s because it is the exact scheme he just thrived in at Michigan.
Former Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has returned to the Ravens, where he was an assistant coach for several years prior to his time in Ann Arbor. Macdonald is familiar with Ross’s strengths and weaknesses and the Ravens could benefit from added positional depth and another strong locker room presence.