Justyn Ross

Scouting the 2021 NFL Draft: Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson

June 24, 2020

Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross was diagnosed with a congenital fusion in his neck and spine and was ruled out for the season on June 1. The news is obviously a big blow to the Tigers’ offense in 2020 and for Ross, his NFL future remains a big mystery.

It’s anyone’s guess whether Ross will declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Maybe he’ll choose to return to Clemson for the 2021 season and prove to the league he’s healthy. Regardless of which choice he makes, they both carry significant risks.

While seeing playing time in both of his seasons as a Tiger, Ross is second behind Tee Higgins in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns (2018-19). He also produced a 1,000 receiving yard season in his freshman year.

In Clemson’s spread offense, Justyn Ross has played in both the slot and outside positions, while running a variety of routes. While in the slot, he will usually run shorter, simpler routes. These are the routes that he has had the most success with. When lined up on the outside is when he runs deeper, more complicated routes. Deeper routes are where Ross’s struggles are depicted.

As a receiver, Ross has the natural hands to be a starter at the next level. He is willing to go up and make contested catches against all levels of competition, even if he doesn’t come down with them all. Ross has the ability to pluck balls out of the air at the last minute and contort his body to make grabs outside his catch radius if they are over-thrown, under-thrown, or behind him. As he is not the fastest, Ross relies on his ability to “box-out” defenders when going up to make a catch.

Ross excels when playing defenses in zone coverage. He reads defenses prior to the snap and as he is running his route, which informs him which zones are open to sit down in. Even if he hasn’t finished his route, his instincts tell him to cut his route short to help out his QB by giving him an open target.

As Ross has an unforeseeable amount of time off, there are some things he needs to improve on to be successful in the NFL. If/when Ross returns to the game of football, he needs to improve his concentration, blocking/participation in the run game, man coverage ability and RAC ability.

His concentration shines through when he’s going up to make a contested catch and a potential big play. However, he struggles to bring in simple, underneath catches when he hears footsteps of defenders. Ross seems to be more worried about the hit he may or may not take, rather than bringing in the ball to make a play for his team.

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Unlike in zone coverage, Ross struggles in against defenses that play man coverage. His release needs work, as he is a step behind when the ball is snapped. Against weaker competition, he shows off his physicality and swats the hands of defenders away to help create separation. However, because of his lack of speed, more athletic defenders will be able to make up the ground they lost at the line of scrimmage. If a defender is quicker than Ross, he can only win the battle with his physicality and by “boxing them out”.

Once he has brought a catch into his body, Ross struggles to turn upfield and make something more happen. There are rare occasions where he will break for a long gain, as he seems to be brought down right away. Ross needs to be more physical with defenders and not be afraid to run them over if they are in his way. Making catches on deep throws makes him a good receiver. However, if he can make something happen after the catch, that will elevate him to a great receiver and asset at the next level.

His participation in the run game could use some work. Ross is willing to block for his running back and other receivers, but there is a clear lack of effort. Throughout his first two seasons with Clemson, he has not been used in the run game much besides as a blocker in the slot or on the outside. Ross seems to lack a motor when he’s not specifically involved in a play. He may get away with that attitude at the collegiate level, but that won’t fly on an NFL roster.

With Justyn Ross’ current situation, these are all hypothetical thoughts. Assuming he gets another chance to play the game of football, he is going to need to improve his game. Enhancing his ability to gain more yards after the catch will improve his draft stock drastically. He is going to need to step up in more ways than one as the number one receiver now that Tee Higgins has moved onto the NFL.

Everyone involved in the world of football, from the entire Clemson Tigers team to fans around the world, would love nothing more than for Ross to be able to play football again. Unfortunately, there is just no knowing the outcome of his injury until he has the procedure and goes through the proper rehabilitation process. Positive thoughts go out to Justyn Ross and his family as they go through this difficult time.

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