One of the biggest surprises in the first-round of the 2020 NFL Draft was the selection of center Cesar Ruiz by the New Orleans Saints with the 24th pick. Pundits and Saints fans alike believed that New Orleans was going to take a linebacker or wide receiver if a top option fell to the team. Despite LSU linebacker Patrick Queen remaining on the board, the Saints shocked the fanbase by taking Ruiz, a Michigan product.
Yet the selection of an interior offensive lineman by New Orleans should not have come as much of a surprise as it did. Current guard Larry Warford is due for free agency after the 2020 season and will command a large contract. With rumors swirling around that the Saints have been unhappy with the current guard's performance, it seems unlikely he would be signed to an extension. Ruiz helps solve the future Warford issue, and could even open up possibilities for New Orleans to move on from the player. Moving on could come in the form of a trade, or even an outright cut. Warford will count against the cap to the tune of around $13 million in 2020.
Payton said he didn't draft Cesar Ruiz to be a backup. He said Larry Warford is going to have to compete. "That how you have to improve your team."— John Hendrix (@JohnJHendrix) April 24, 2020
Outside of how it could affect other players, Ruiz was arguably the best interior lineman available in the draft, and was projected to go late in the first-round. It begs the question of why the Saints did not move down if Ruiz was “their guy” and add extra draft capital. However, trading picks requires a willing partner, and it is quite possible that no one behind New Orleans felt the need to draft up to get a player of value.
The Saints have always claimed that they would take the best player available at their spot. This represents that mentality, and it proves where New Orleans is as an organization. They don’t have to draft for need because there are no fatal holes. Linebacker was the most glaring, but their current squad will be bolstered one way or the other before the 2020 season starts. It was not necessary to do it with the first-round pick.
While it was not a flashy move and many LSU/Saints fans will be upset, this move carries with it a multitude of benefits. Ruiz will immediately help bolster an already solid offensive line, and answers any questions about the potential future of the position. In addition, the possibility that Warford could be moved to create more cap space would allow the team to better itself through further acquisitions and extensions. While it may be upsetting to some, Ruiz was the right selection.
Overall draft grade: B+ with a “I” for incomplete. There could be more coming with this move.
Note: Our fan poll showed that the majority of Saints fans graded the selection of Ruiz with a “B” or higher.