Could Cesar Ruiz Be a Surprise First-Round Option for the Vikings?
There have been a wide variety of positions discussed as options for the Vikings with their two first-round picks, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive line, safety, and even the occasional linebacker or quarterback.
Here's a possibility that hasn't been brought up much, but maybe should be: what if the Vikings go back to the well and select an interior offensive lineman in the first round for a second straight year? Specifically, what if they fall in love with the talent and versatility of Michigan center Cesar Ruiz?
There will be those that find the suggestion ridiculous, considering the Vikings have a litany of other needs and just took their center of the future, Garrett Bradbury, with the 18th overall pick in 2019. But it's important to note that moving from center to guard is a lot easier than moving from tackle to guard. Most centers have experience playing guard, and that includes both Bradbury and Ruiz. Bradbury started every game at left guard for NC State as a redshirt sophomore in 2016, and Ruiz played five games at right guard in 2017. They each became stars at center during the last two years of their college careers, but a move to guard is feasible for either one.
The reason this should be considered a sneaky possibility is that Ruiz is not only the top interior offensive line prospect in the 2020 draft, but he has the mobility to be an outstanding fit in the Vikings' zone-blocking scheme. At 6-foot-3, 307 pounds, Ruiz is almost exactly the same size as Bradbury and has a similar combination of strength and athleticism. He ran a solid 5.08-second 40-yard dash at the combine, and was impressive in just about every measurement, including the bench press and the jumping tests. Ruiz's tape shows a player capable of executing pulls and getting to the second level with ease.
The major difference between Ruiz and Bradbury is that Ruiz is somehow four years younger. Bradbury (DOB: 6/20/95) was one of the oldest players in last year's draft class, while Ruiz (DOB: 6/14/99) has yet to turn 21 and is one of the youngest 2020 prospects. Given his age, Ruiz figures to continue to grow as a player, but he's already a capable pass-blocker because of his excellent hands, balance, and power. He surrendered just 19 pressures in nearly 900 snaps over the last two seasons.
Another reason why taking Ruiz could make sense: the Vikings have a major need on the interior of their offensive line after the surprising release of right guard Josh Kline. They already likely needed to upgrade at left guard considering Pat Elflein's struggles in pass protection, but now both guard spots are question marks.
For a team that emphasizes running the ball, it could be tempting to continue loading up on talented, athletic players in the middle of the offensive line. An interior trio of Bradbury, Ruiz, and 2019 fourth-rounder Dru Samia – who the Vikings coaching staff is high on – could be one of the league's best in a couple years.
Ruiz checks in at No. 47 on SI's big board, but others have him a lot higher. Danny Kelly of The Ringer has him at No. 33. Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN has him at No. 25, noting that he gave Ruiz a higher grade on film than he gave Bradbury last year. Joe Marino of The Draft Network has Ruiz all the way up at No. 21 on his rankings.
What that means is that Ruiz could be a legitimate option for the Vikings with their second pick at No. 25 overall. If they think he'll be available at the end of the first round or early in the second, they could also explore trading back to get him.
It might sound crazy to draft a center in the first round for two straight years, but with both Ruiz and Bradbury capable of sliding over to guard, it's a possibility that shouldn't be ruled out.
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