NFL Draft

2022 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Clemson WR Justyn Ross

From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling a wide receiver prospect that shined on the biggest stage as a true freshman, helping Clemson win a National Championship. However, a severe injury caused him to put his NFL dreams on hold and now is a controversial prospect in this year’s draft class.

#8 Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson (R-Jr.) – 6035, 205 lbs.

Measurements

Combine Invite

Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Justyn Ross 6035/205 9 5/8” 32 1/8” 77 7/8”
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
4.56 (Pro Day) N/A N/A N/A
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
9’8” (Pro Day) 31.5 (Pro Day) 11

 

The Good

— Has experience playing on both sides of the formation both on the perimeter and in the slot
— Has experience going in motion as well as being utilized on WR screens to get him the ball quickly in space
— Has the height and length to make catches out of his frame routinely on passes near his vicinity
— Adjusts well to poorly thrown passes that come in off-target
— Can elevate into the air to win jump balls in coverage
— Does a good job making circus catches in coverage, focusing on the football and keeping his feet in-bounds
— Competent at working all quadrants of the field as a receiver
— Does a good job breaking out of the top of his route on out routes to create quick separation on passes to the sideline
— Can drop his hips when coming out of his breaks over the middle of the field
— Plays the scramble drill well working against zone coverage to find the soft spot to give his QB a target to throw to
— Long arms and size allow him to make possession grabs over the middle
— Willing blocker that will square up defenders and latch on in the run game

The Bad

— Below-average athleticism when it comes to speed and burst off the line
— Utilized on quick hitters and WR tunnel screens, but doesn’t possess great run-after catch ability to create in space
— Doesn’t separate well against tight man coverage over the middle of the field and down the sideline
— Doesn’t have the long speed or acceleration to stack corners at the top of the route when working vertically down the field
— Isn’t the sharpest route runner, allowing defenders to break on the ball to contest the pass
— Doesn’t consistently shield off corners on possession catches as they will play through his hands to knock away passes
— Doesn’t have the strongest hands when making combative catches in tight coverage, allowing the defender to force incompletions that hit his hands
— Can be more aggressive as a blocker on the outside by maintaining his blocks longer after initial contact
— Suffered a severe neck injury that caused him to miss the entire 2020 season; has been medically cleared but history could be a concern
— Coming off a foot fracture that noticeably hampered him during the 2021 season
— Suffered from erratic QB play, having plenty of targets off-target during his final season

Bio

— Redshirt Junior prospect from Phenix City, AL
— Born Dec. 15, 1999 (age 22)
— Consensus Top 10 WR prospect and the #1 player out of the state of Alabama in his recruiting class
— Also was a highly-touted basketball player at Central High School, originally wanted to play basketball over football but his coach and mother convinced him to go out
— Recorded 46 receptions for 1,000 yards (21.7 YPR) with nine touchdowns in 343 snaps over 15 games as a true freshman, helping Clemson win a National Championship
— Recorded 66 receptions for 865 yards (13.1 YPR) and eight touchdowns on 586 snaps in 14 starts as a sophomore
— Suffered a stinger during spring practice in 2020 and had an X-ray that revealed due to a congenital fusion condition of his neck and spine that required surgery, causing him to miss the entire 2020 campaign
— Fought back to get cleared in May of 2021 and play in his redshirt junior season where he recorded 46 receptions for 514 yards (11.2 YPR) and three TDs in ten games played
— Played on a stress fracture in his foot in 2021 and aggravated the injury in November, causing him to have surgery and miss the remainder for the 2021 season
— Honorable mention All-ACC in 2019, voted as a permanent team captain in 2021
— Sport Communications major

Tape Breakdown

Justyn Ross has been a name that many college football fans have been waiting to declare for the NFL Draft ever since his first season on campus at Death Valley. Ross made an immediate impact for the Tigers as a true freshman, forming a dynamic duo with Tee Higgins while having Trever Lawrence throwing the football the headline a dynamic passing attack that went into the 2019 CFP National Championship Game against Alabama and shocked them in a big upset win. Ross especially made a name for himself in the contest, catching six passes for 153 yards (25.5 YPR) and a TD. However, anyone watching the game will remember this one-handed snag in coverage while tight roping the sideline for the crazy catch.

 

Ross showed in that game that he had great body control along the sideline as well as the awareness to reel in difficult passes that could be off-target or outside his framework. Here is another example in the same game of Ross getting an outside release against press coverage as he hand fights for position with #28 Josh Jobe. Ross sticks out his right hand for the one-handed catch, bobbles the catch, but brings it in with both hands along the sideline before getting drilled out of bounds by the defender flying in.

 

Here is another example of Ross demonstrating his body control in the back of the end zone on the extended pass play against the Wolfpack, toe-tapping the green before having momentum take him out of bounds for the TD.

 

Ross had to adjust to plenty of off-target passes this last season at Clemson with QB #5 D.J. Uiagalelei being so erratic as a passer all season. His length and height allow him to make catches outside of his framework along with his awareness to adjust to poorly thrown balls that are low to the ground or are behind him. Here is one good example against NC State where Ross reels in an off-target pass thrown behind him, saving it from hitting the floor.

 

Ross suffered a stinger back in 2020 spring practice that ended up revealing a severe neck issue termed a congenital fusion that needed surgery to fix the potential long-term concern for Ross. After the surgery, he as well as the rest of the team didn’t know if he would be allowed to return to football, but he managed to battle back and play in 2021. Ross’s usage changed with the loss of Lawrence, Higgins, and Travis Etienne to the NFL, being moved more around the formation and utilized more on jet motions and WR screens on the outside like we see on this rep against Georgia in the season opener.

 

Despite not being a dynamic athlete in terms of blazing speed or twitchy quickness, Ross is a well-rounded receiver, being able to work all quadrants of the field and can get low and drop his hips as he comes out of his break at the top of his route. Watch Ross break outside on the out route leveraging the defender inside before breaking back outside for the catch to move the chains.

 

Ross also has a great feel for the scramble drill when the play breaks down, working to the open spots in the coverage to present his QB and target to put the ball on as he attempts to extend the play. Watch as Ross lines up in the slot on the left side of the formation and works the skinny post in the red zone against the zone coverage drop, getting on top of the safety who has his eyes in the backfield, giving his QB an easy target in the middle of the field for the TD strike.

 

Ross also does a great job leveraging his in-breaking routes by taking a hard jab step outside to get the CB to bite before breaking back inside like we see on this catch over the middle against the Crimson Tide a couple years ago, getting a step on the defender and catches the ball with #15 Xavier McKinney tackling him from behind to move the sticks.

 

However, Ross isn’t the most elusive receiver when it comes to crisp route running or creating ample separation against athletic defensive backs. His lack of quick twitch and long speed allow defenders to recover quickly and comes in to contest passes. Watch this rep versus NC State where the QB buys time and throws the pass to Ross over the middle, but the defender comes in and bats the ball down. It is tight coverage, but Ross should use his long frame to box out the defender to attempt to make the possession grab on third down.

 

Here is another example from the 2019 CFP National Championship Game where Ross attempts to make the back shoulder catch, but can’t hang onto the football as the defender knocks the ball out of his hands along the sideline, forcing the incomplete pass.

 

As I mentioned earlier, Ross isn’t the best athlete when it comes to long speed or quickness as a runner after the catch. He struggles to generate separation over the middle of the field out of his breaks and doesn’t have that second gear to stack defenders on vertical route down the field as a deep threat. This leads to plenty of combative catch attempts where he doesn’t have the play strength to reel in the catch against contested coverage or hesitancy to make the catch like we see on the final play in overtime against NC State where Ross loses track of the football in the air, alligator arming the pass that falls in front of him to seal the loss.

 

Conclusion

Overall, Justyn Ross took college football by storm due to his performances on the biggest stages as a true freshman, leading many to think he would be the next great Clemson receiver to transition from college to the pros. However, a severe neck injury, a foot fracture in his final season, and poor QB play really hampered his prospects of going with a top selection like many thought he would after his freshman season. To make matters worse, Ross hasn’t exactly wowed with impressive athletic traits either, having below-average play speed and explosiveness to threaten defenses down the field or after the catch.

When looking for a pro comparison for Ross, Josh Reynolds now with the Detroit Lions came to mind as another long, lean WR prospect coming out of Texas A&M that shares similar size (6’2 7/8”, 194lb) as well as long speed (4.52 40) that made some impressive highlight reel catches in college, but wasn’t known for being a burner as a deep threat nor a guy that scared defenses as a YAC receiver. Reynolds ended up getting selected in the fourth round to the Los Angeles Rams of the 2017 NFL Draft and played a backup role behind the likes of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp while contributing a little on special teams.

Personally, I foresee a similar role for Ross in the NFL as a #3 or 4 option in a receiving core that can provide suitable depth giving his ability to play all over the formation both out wide and in the slot, having the skill set to be a red zone weapon as well as make some impressive sideline/end zone catches from time-to-time, but lacks that upper-tier athletic ability to truly dominate as a combative catch specialist or a true deep threat. His injury history will also hamper his draft prospects as he is coming off two big injuries the last two seasons, needing to show he can be healthy for an entire 17-game regular season.

Both GM Kevin Colbert WR Coach Frisman Jackson, and HC Mike Tomlin were on-hand for Ross’s Pro Day at Clemson where he mentioned that he had been talking to the Steelers a lot during the pre-draft process. While Pittsburgh will likely address the WR position with James Washington, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ray-Ray McCloud all hitting free agency this offseason, I personally question Ross’s ability to become an impact starter alongside Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Hopefully, more time away from the previous injuries and improved QB play will help him realize his potential at the next level, so look for Ross to potentially be on the Steelers’ short list of WR targets in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Projection: Day Three

Depot Draft Grade: 7.1 – Backup/Special Teamer (5th Round)

Games Watched: vs Georgia (2021), at NC State (2021) vs Alabama (2019)

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