On Day 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft, former Michigan center Cesar Ruiz became the first Wolverine off the board when the New Orleans Saints selected the 6-3, 307-pound blocker with the No. 24 pick in the first round.
After New Orleans grabbed center Erik McCoy with its first selection at No. 48 overall a year ago, the Saints were not expected to grab Ruiz, or any center for that matter, so early in 2020.
“Given the needs, we all looked at it and said wide receiver and linebacker were probably the two biggest needs to be filled,” John Hendrix from Saints News said. “Offensive line wasn’t totally in our minds.”
At that point, former LSU linebacker Patrick Queen was still available, but the Saints opted to address a glaring weakness that showed itself during New Orleans’ postseason push last year.
“When you look at what happened to this team last year in the wildcard playoff game against the Vikings, the interior line was attacked specifically,” Hendrix said. “The pick makes sense. Everything I’ve seen on him, read on him, I think he’s the real deal Holyfield, and he’s going to really make an impact on this team.”
During the pre-draft process, Ruiz logged a 5.08-second 40-yard dash, put up 28 reps of 225 lbs. at bench press, a 33” vertical jump and 113” broad jump at the NFL Combine. When adding that performance to a two-time All-Big Ten career at Michigan, the Saints nabbed Ruiz and are aiming to use him right off the bat.
“[The Saints] drafted him with the intention that he’s not coming in to be a backup, so that is first and foremost,” Hendrix said. “He’s expected to push Larry Warford, who is the team’s right guard right now, who is in the final year of his contract. The Saints could save a bundle if they either trade him or release him if Ruiz comes in and ends up being that guy, so obviously I think right now they are thinking about the right guard spot. They may kick Erik McCoy, their second-year center, to guard. They have that flexibility there and available.”
While at Michigan, Ruiz started 26 games at center and five more at right guard, so it would be feasible to use him in either position at the next level. However, it is clear that Ruiz is poised to assume a role at center sooner or later given his knack of recognizing defensive alignments and making proper adjustments in pre-play checks.
“You can see how good he is, how physical he is and how good he is in pass blocking, his power, his strength, hand positioning is really good,” Hendrix said. “When we talked to Ed Warriner, Michigan’s offensive line coach, one thing he pointed out to us that I didn’t know is he was a guy making all the run calls and the pass protection calls. That is what he did, and you think about how the Saints offense operates, pre-snap reads with Drew Brees, different things, even when the defense is shifting around, that’s the type of I.Q. they need for someone on the offensive line.”
With each of those elements working in Ruiz’s favor, the Saints envision that he will make an impact early in his first year along the offensive line just as he did at Michigan.
“This is a guy who strikes me as he knows how to be great, and he’s willing to do what it takes to be great,” Hendrix said. “Yesterday, he said how football is so natural to him. Right now, his focus is only on football. His knowledge is only going to get higher and higher, and he’s going to get better than what he is at it.”
During his time at Michigan, Ruiz solidified his position as a leader along the O-Line from his very first season, and he will be looked upon to transition to the Saints in a similar fashion.
How do you see Ruiz’s first few seasons in New Orleans turning out? Will Ruiz seamlessly adjust to playing in the NFL or will he need to be brought along gingerly? Let us know!