For the majority of NFL teams drafting in the first round, a realistic option to improve their quarterback situation doesn’t exist. While an improvement at that position is the best way to increase offensive production, there are only a few quarterback prospects per class ready to play in the NFL. But the best way to increase production for both a run and passing game, the next best thing to upgrading quarterback, is to improve play on the offensive line.
In the 2020 NFL Draft, there exists a strong class of offensive lineman that could immediately improve a team up front. One of them is Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz, the best interior lineman in the class and one of the select few offensive linemen with the potential of an All-Pro.
Ruiz’s background screams highly talented prospect.
After growing up in New Jersey, Ruiz transferred to prep powerhouse and recruit factory IMG Academy and was the No. 1 ranked center in the 2017 class. He would start the final five games of the season at right guard as a true freshman, before taking over at center for the rest of his college career. He would start the final 31 games of his time at Michigan, entering the draft a year early before testing as a 91st percentile athlete (RAS) among center prospects since 1999. During his time at Michigan, he was described as well-liked by coaches and a person that his teammates gravitate towards.
To recap, the 20-year-old Ruiz has been lauded for his talent, has position versatility, has strong experience, tested as an athletic freak and has been described as high character. The scary part is that his film is as equally as impressive as his background.
One of the first things that stick out on Ruiz’s tape is his mobility for his size. Checking in at about 6-3 and 307 pounds, Ruiz moves well in space with quickness and vision. These traits make him an effective puller, as he’s able to redirect his path to bring power to the point of contact. There are shades of Maurkice Pouncey in these clips:
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) April 15, 2020
Cesar Ruiz getting to the 3rd level pic.twitter.com/fhwChIRkL3
— NFL Clips (@NFLDraftVideos) April 16, 2020
Ruiz’s ability to pull as a lead blocker helps his protection into gap and power running schemes in the NFL, but he has equal or even greater potential with his zone blocking. Ruiz can really take over combination blocks with his strength, overpowering defensive linemen while driving them off the line of scrimmage. His ability to control those blocks opens up lanes on inside and tight zone running plays, and he’s able to efficiently climb to the second level when the combination block calls for it.
Ruiz has fantastic traits to project into a zone-heavy running scheme
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) April 15, 2020
On top of his snap-to-snap effectiveness in zone blocking, his splash plays in this area are eye-popping. Once Ruiz gets into the pads of the opposing defensive lineman, his power and nastiness allow him to finish them off with force into the ground. Offensive line coaches in the NFL have to be salivating at the idea of adding Ruiz’s explosiveness into their starting lineup.
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) March 25, 2020
One of the final pieces to Ruiz’s prospect puzzle is his effectiveness in pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus, Ruiz allowed just one sack as a sophomore and zero sacks as a junior during his time as a starting center. On almost 900 combined pass protection reps, he allowed just 19 total pressures and one sack.
Ruiz finds success in pass protection because he maintains bent knees and heavy feet, making him difficult to disengage from. With the quick hands necessary to reset inside, he’s a grippy offensive lineman who mirrors or anchors well.
Cesar Ruiz is in pass protection –
— NFL Clips (@NFLDraftVideos) April 15, 2020
Ruiz can have issues with the accuracy of his initial punch, ending up in his being caught leaning one way or the other. He’ll struggle to maintain his balance on pass blocks when he gets bumped from either side, a necessary trait to have when playing center. During the rare occasion that he allowed pressure, those were the root cause.
Ruiz not only has a strong baseline as a clean, versatile prospect with upside in the run and pass game, but his ceiling is noticeable. Entering the league at a young age with no clear weakness means his physical development will continue, and his yearly improvements don’t need to be focused on technical issues in his skill-set (something not every offensive line prospect can say).
With a small leap in development, Ruiz has the potential to be one of the best centers in the NFL within a couple of seasons. That will position him to be a cornerstone piece for an NFL team’s offensive line, and in contention for multiple pro bowl and all-pro nods over the course of his career.