Don’t feel bad for being confused at this pick, Saints fans. I was too, at first.
“A center? Really? We just drafted Erik McCoy last year!”
But hear me out, Cesar Ruiz isn’t just any interior offensive linemen. This is probably the best interior guy in the draft.
It may not have been a glaring need compared to some other positions, but Ruiz provides enough depth and value to where this probably solidifies the Saints offensive line as the best in the league, if it wasn’t already. And that means something.
They simply went with the best player available, and that’s a strategy that’s proven to work for them. Guys like Alvin Kamara and Ryan Ramczyk were picks that didn’t necessarily fill immediate needs at the time, but were the highest players left on the draft board. They’ve turned out pretty well.
Sean Payton said of Ruiz, “he was one of the better interior linemen I’ve seen in a while and I think we’re getting a player with great physical ability and we’re also getting a player that has fantastic makeup.”
So, I have faith this pick will come to fruition soon.
But enough about fit, let’s get into what kind of player Ruiz is. (Spoiler, he’s a good one):
-Athleticism in run game
He has necessary athleticism to get to the second level on zone runs.
Ruiz is at his best chipping a defensive tackle on a double team and then getting vertical to a linebacker. He’s got a very impressive athletic profile, and it shows on such plays.
This is a perfect fit in the Saints offense, considering how much outside zone they run with Alvin Kamara. Ruiz could step in tomorrow and be a positive contributor in that aspect, with his combination of explosiveness off the line and fluidity in the open field.
This athleticism could also be utilized in the Saints’ diverse screen game. I can already picture him getting out ahead of guys on screens and creating paths for pass-catchers.
But the area I’m perhaps most excited about seeing with Ruiz is his athleticism being utilized as a puller in the power run game.
Michigan had him pull from the center position a lot of their power and counter running plays, and he was so good at it. We saw the Saints run a bit more power schemes with Latavius Murray in the backfield last year, and Ruiz would be a great addition to that.
-Anchor in pass protection
Ruiz has such a solid foundation on his pass sets. He may get pushed back initially at times, but he has a tremendous ability to recover and stand his ground.
This is honestly one of the most important aspects of offensive line play. It doesn’t have to be pretty or aesthetically pleasing, just don’t get beat. And Ruiz simply doesn’t beat that often.
He’s got ginormous hands at 11”, and used them like a pro in college, getting into defender’s shoulder pads and ending their rush before it ever started a lot of the time.
There are very few nitpicks about Ruiz’s pass protection abilities. He’s as close to elite as you’ll see from an interior offensive linemen, and he’s coming from a conference in college where he faced plenty of high-level competition.
-Worker bee. Never gives up on a play
If Ruiz does end up playing center for the Saints, this is one of my favorite aspects of his game is how he never stops looking for work on a play.
Sometimes as a center, you’re not going to have a clear one-on-one assignment. You have to find work, pick up blitzes and help your guards. Ruiz seems to be giddy about finding work to do in this regard.
He spends his pass pro reps where he doesn’t have a one-on-one assignment buzzing around the interior, eager to help his guards and pick up blitzes.
Sean Payton said in his post-draft interview that Ruiz made all the calls on Michigan’s offensive line, and his “FBI,” or football intelligence is a huge reason why he was the pick. The tape confirms this claim, as Ruiz appears to be a really smart player.
-Got overpowered at times vs. Bama
Of all the tape I’ve seen from his senior year, the only game you can point to and say “wow, he got beat a few times,” was in the Citrus Bowl against Alabama.
He also had some really good plays on on display in this game, but there were a few where Bama stud (and future NFL player) Raekwon Davis got the best of him.
Davis put a couple moves on display that Ruiz couldn’t handle, giving him a direct path to his quarterback.
Now, it’s possible the loss in the graphic above isn’t totally on him, as it appears he possibly could’ve been expecting more help from his right guard. But nonetheless, it’s a loss on tape.
The good news is everyone has bad tape. It’s just a matter of limiting it, and Ruiz did that. The Bama game is probably his worst of the season, and even it wasn’t disastrous by any means.
-Could stand to add some strength to his frame
This is barely a negative, as Ruiz isn’t even 21 years old yet and has time to fill out a bit, but he didn’t display a ton of power in the run game. He wasn’t a liability by any means, as he has great hand-usage and can latch, turn and seal with the best of them.
It mainly has to do with when he makes contact early in a run play, and needs to drive his legs to get a push. In the play below, he makes contact but struggles to get any type of a push.
He’s not incapable of this, but it’s not necessarily a strength of his either, at the moment. He’s much better when he gets his momentum moving forward, like when he’s coming downhill on gap schemes as a puller or getting to the second level on zone runs after chipping.
-Showed a few reps where he didn’t recognize stunts in pass pro
In their pre-draft analysis of Ruiz, Pro Football Focus questioned his ability to consistently pick up stunts in pass protection, stating, “of the very few negatives of Ruiz’s play in pass-pro, a high rate of them were a result of his stunt recognition.”
According to PFF, he lost as many reps against stunts as he did when there wasn’t a stunt, which would be unusual due the fact that he saw way more snaps without a stunt than snaps with stunts.
While this didn’t show to be a huge problem on tape, there definitely were a couple instances against Iowa where he didn’t pick up on a stunt as quickly as you’d like.
I personally wouldn’t be too worried about this, as with such a young player, you’ll see lapses with stunts at times. The fact that this small sample size is among one of his few weaknesses is nothing to be alarmed about, especially considering he also showed on tape he’s capable of picking them up.
He should be able to figure it out.
Overall, I think Ruiz was well-worth a first round pick. You might not be happy with the position they drafted, but you should sleep well knowing they just added yet another great football player to their already-great team.
Considering he is only 20 years old, his ability to currently contribute and bring long-term stability to the interior of the offensive line is good reason to be excited about this pick.
I was skeptical at first, and still think better picks could have been made, but I’m not at all upset with acquiring Ruiz. I think he’ll be a good player for a long time.