When the Baltimore Ravens drafted David Ojabo from the University of Michigan, it was a heartwarming story on several levels. Ojabo, a projected first round pick, suffered a severe Achilles injury that left a cloud of uncertainty over where he would ultimately fall. The Baltimore Ravens swooped in and drafted Ojabo with the 45th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, stopping his slide. Beyond that, the Ravens first-year defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald, was Ojabo’s defensive coordinator at Michigan last year. Macdonald gave Ojabo the call to let him know that he would be joining him in Baltimore.
Mike Macdonald and David Ojabo’s phone call from draft night gives me chills for real pic.twitter.com/EwrA92ZVhO— RAMEY (@HoodieRamey) May 5, 2022
The Ravens drafting Ojabo made a ton of sense. If any team had a better shot of integrating a player into their defense quickly considering injury, it would be the same defense that Ojabo succeeded in last fall. The draft came and went. 256 players were selected. Some of those who weren’t drafted, just as any other year, received phone calls from various teams, or perhaps a single team. In Josh Ross’ case, like Ojabo, his old pal Mike Macdonald called to bring him to Baltimore.
Ross wasn’t a first round prospect like Ojabo was before injury. He didn’t put up gaudy numbers at the combine. He was, however, a two-year captain for the Wolverines and quietly earned third team All-Big Ten honors alongside Ojabo, All-American Aidan Hutchinson and first-round pick Daxton Hill. Ross amassed over 100 tackles and helped lead Michigan to their first Big Ten title in over a decade.
The 6-foot 225-pound linebacker didn’t garner much notoriety from Baltimore beat reporters throughout OTA’s or training camp. His name wasn’t mentioned often, if at all, until the Ravens first preseason game. Ross ran a 4.79 40-time, he didn’t jump particularly well, and really only one metric (Ross’ 1.60 10-yard split qualified as the 85th percentile of inside linebackers in combine history) stood out. Ross, however, has had one succinct advantage. Like Ojabo, Ross is comfortable and familiar in Macdonald’s defense.
The 23-year old linebacker has put on a show of technically savvy, confident and nearly perfect linebacker play across the Ravens first two preseason games. The best play to summarize Ross’ efficiency was his first snap against the Cardinals in the Ravens second preseason game. The Cardinals ran an inside counter play, the right guard seemed to miss his assignment. Ross shot the gap and had the ball carrier wrapped up by the time he made his first step after the handoff. Ross has been reading run and pass extremely well, having the confidence to open up and maximize his speed to execute his read and hasn’t missed a tackle through two games.
Within that clip, Ross chased down former Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley and hit him out shy of the pylon, saving a touchdown and allowing the Ravens to get a defensive stop on the series. He’s also been adept in the pass game. While not the smoothest athlete in coverage, he’s disrupted routes with physicality in hook drops while progressing to his next read as route combinations show themselves. Several major outlets have picked up on how well Ross has played.
Defensive standouts so far this preseason pic.twitter.com/QyInboVmNS— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 12, 2022
The defensive standouts in Week 2 ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/xP91Nyqrf9— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 24, 2022
Mike Macdonald called undrafted rookie ILB Josh Ross, a preseason standout, “one of the favorite players at Michigan that I’ve coached on a day-to-day basis.”— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) August 24, 2022
Added: “We love Josh, and he fits just right in here.” pic.twitter.com/IA5Ssa8ZL1
With the Ravens preseason finale against the Washington Commanders, Ross should have an opportunity to play nearly as many snaps as he did in the first two games (42). Special teams are also a key component of what propels a UDFA to make a 53-man roster. If Ross is able to make just one big play on special teams, the Ravens will have no choice but to give the rookie a spot on their 53-man roster. Teams have until this upcoming Tuesday at 4 p.m. to make their cuts. While Ross is certainly more comfortable in Macdonald’s defense than he would be picking up a new system on the fly, he has been one of the standout defensive players throughout the entire league over the first two weeks. Running the risk of putting Ross on waivers, particularly considering that the Ravens inside linebacker position is one with little certainty outside of Patrick Queen, would be negligent.
One interesting irony is that Ross’ position coach is former Ravens linebacker Zach Orr. Orr was a UDFA in 2014 who made the Ravens 53-man roster as a rookie, as Ross is pushing to do as well. Orr turned into an All-Pro selection in his third season before an injury uncovered a congenital neck/spine condition that forced him into retirement. Orr became a coaching assistant with the Ravens before following former defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who was the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator last year. Orr was the Jaguars linebacker coach in 2021, but after a coaching regime change this offseason, the former All-Pro returned to take the same position in Baltimore. It’s hard to imagine Orr, who had even less acclaim out of North Texas and unspectacular Pro-Day numbers, isn’t laying down the exact formula for Ross to earn a spot heading into the regular season.
Ross is laying down the recipe for UDFA’s around the league. He’s playing fast, under control, with confidence. There is no hesitation in his reads, the way he attacks blockers or ball carriers. He’s playing with a controlled violence that is a refined beauty in terms of linebacker play. Ross is also running like a bat out of hell whenever an offensive play unfolds itself. Ross has put together, essentially, highlight tapes in each of the last two games. His performance against the Cardinals was something to marvel at.
How to Make an NFL Team as an Undrafted Free Agent: Presented by Josh Ross.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) August 24, 2022
Step 1: perfectly diagnose screens, inside runs, play action, bootlegs, underneath route concepts.
Step 2: go hit, hard, and make tackles.
Step 3: make the team.
TOO FITTING his LB coach is Zach Orr. pic.twitter.com/akePDnhk9H
If Ross is able to play even 80% as well as he has the first two games, the Ravens will simply have no other choice but to include the Wolverine alumni on their opening day roster. While many have lauded the Ravens 2022 draft class as one of the best in show, Ross has shown the potential to be one of their most impactful rookie in 2022. Watching him against the Commanders this evening will be the most fun part of preseason. An undrafted player with little acclaim? Check mark. Has made a name for himself after dominating in exhibition games? Check mark. Will have all the pressure on his shoulders to follow up with a repeat performance and earn himself a roster spot? Check mark.
Ultimately, it’s Mike Macdonald’s defense and decision as to who he wants to earn a roster spot. With another strong performance, Macdonald will have a player who has familiarity in his system at a position of need who looks like a potential impact player. The floor is yours, Josh Ross.