New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was unhappy with the performance of his interior offensive line during a first-round playoff upset to the Minnesota Vikings to end their 2019 season.
The Saints released veteran right guard Larry Warford and signed G Andrus Peat to a lucrative contract extension that surprised some. They had another surprise in store for followers at the start of the 2020 NFL draft.
Despite several projections that predicted they’d select a linebacker or wide receiver, New Orleans drafted Michigan offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz with the 24th overall pick. Ruiz was predominantly a center in college, where 2019 2nd was selection Erik McCoy was coming off a successful rookie campaign.
Coaches planned on McCoy, predominantly a guard in college at Texas A&M, and Ruiz to each have reps at guard and center during preseason games to find their best fits. Unfortunately, a nationwide outbreak of COVID-19 forced the cancelation of offseason workouts, preseason games, and limited training camp.
Coaches felt that leaving McCoy at center would provide the best continuity during a limited offseason. That left Ruiz to learn a new position at the NFL level with fewer reps. Today's Year-in-Review spotlight looks back at the results.
Ruiz suffered an ankle injury in training camp that further limited his snaps, and he was inactive for the season opening win over Tampa Bay. He saw his first action during a Week 2 loss to the Raiders, playing in just six offensive snaps.
Ruiz saw his first extensive playing time in a Week 3 loss to Green Bay, after injuries to starting guards Andrus Peat and Nick Easton knocked them from the game. He’d get his first career start the following week against the Lions, helping pave the way for 164 rushing yards in the win.
Various injuries to Peat and Easton caused consistent shuffling along the interior line all season. Ruiz would start 11 of his teams 18 contests, including both playoff games, and would play at least 60% of the offensive snaps in three others.
Ruiz quickly established himself as a capable run blocker, helping the Saints finish sixth in the league on the ground and lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns. He was at his best during a Christmas Day rout of the Minnesota Vikings. The Saints rushed for a season-high 264 yards in that game, including 164 on the ground and an NFL-record 6 touchdowns from Alvin Kamara.
With the recent release of Nick Easton, the Saints seem willing to turn over a full-time starting role to Ruiz in 2021. With a year in the system and hopefully a full complement of offseason activities, we could see Ruiz inserted at center with McCoy sliding into the right guard spot.
The 6’3 307-Lb Ruiz has terrific mobility for his size and has earned praise from the start for his intelligence. He struggled with his technique as a pass blocker, but should improve with experience. He’s already established himself as an excellent run blocker and looks to be a vital cog in a dominant New Orleans offensive line for the next several years.