The Baltimore Ravens have a long history of success in finding undrafted rookie linebackers who make the team’s 53-man roster, including Patrick Onwuasor, Bart Scott and Chris Board.
The Ravens are hoping they have found another in former Michigan linebacker Josh Ross, who is one of three undrafted rookie linebackers competing for a roster spot, along with Diego Fagot and Zakoby McClain.
Both Fagot and McClain had their moments in training camp – Fagot has flashed on special teams and McClain has snagged a few interceptions – but Ross has been the only one to stand out in Baltimore’s first two preseason games.
After a quiet but solid performance against the Tennessee Titans on August 11, Ross was flying around the field against the Arizona Cardinals on August 21. He racked up five tackles – and leads the Ravens defense in the preseason with nine – and also looked comfortable in pass coverage, something Baltimore could use after Chris Board signed with the Detroit Lions this offseason.
Ross Reunites With Michigan DC
Ross’ hot start could be due to his familiarity with Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald and his scheme after the pair spent 2021 together at the University of Michigan. In Macdonald’s first (and only) season as the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator, Ross led the team with 106 tackles as a starting inside linebacker. He’s clearly already comfortable in Macdonald’s defense in Baltimore, something that likely eased his transition to the NFL.
Ross currently leads all rookie defenders with a 93.0 overall defensive grade from Pro Football Focus through two preseason games, anchored by a 91.5 pass coverage grade that ranks second among all linebackers. Those grades are also the second-highest of any Ravens defender, trailing only veteran cornerback Kyle Fuller who secured a tough interception in Arizona.
Ross’ standout preseason will vault him into contention for a coveted spot on the Ravens’ 53-man roster, an opportunity that current Ravens veteran linebacker Josh Bynes and inside linebackers coach Zach Orr both made the most of in their careers. Bynes is on his third stint in Baltimore as a calming presence in the middle of the defense, while Orr earned a second-team All-Pro nod in 2016 before a medical condition ended his career.
Ravens’ LB Competition Heats Up
It’s hard for off-ball linebackers to stand out in training camp, especially at the Ravens’ minimal-contact practices. There are fewer opportunities to bring down ballcarriers or break up passes over the middle, and more tough one-on-one matchups against tight ends and running backs.
That made it tough to evaluate the Ravens’ linebacking corps at the start of training camp, a group that is looking for a starter alongside 2020 first-rounder Patrick Queen, who has yet to appear in a game.
The 32-year-old Bynes hasn’t taken a snap either, given his veteran status, but he played extremely well next to Queen last year. But the Ravens will want to limit his snap count and get younger at the position, with athletic 2020 third-rounder Malik Harrison as a clear third option.
But he’s been moonlighting at outside linebacker in the preseason due to the Ravens’ shortage at the position, so Baltimore will need more options at inside linebacker.
Kristian Welch has been a core special teams contributor for the last two seasons, so he should have an edge to hold of Ross, who is the clear leader among the Ravens’ undrafted rookie linebackers.
Baltimore could reward Welch’s experience with a roster spot and attempt to sneak Ross through waivers and onto the practice squad, but another standout preseason game may force them to reverse those roles.
Welch cleared waivers in 2020 and likely would have again in 2021 if not for L.J. Fort’s season-ending torn ACL, so the Ravens could keep him on the practice squad in case they need another special teamer while seeing what Ross can offer on defense.