Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 41: Michigan C Cesar Ruiz

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

41. Michigan C Cesar Ruiz

6-foot-3, 307 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.97 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Young, extremely solid center with the grit and power potential to emerge as top 2020 center.

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (and top 50 overall) in the Class of 2017, Ruiz chose the Wolverines over nearly three dozen schools, including many in the SEC. He played right away as a freshman spending time as the team’s sixth offensive lineman (lining up at left guard and tight end sparingly) before being thrust into the starting lineup as the right guard for the final six games.

Ruiz won the starting center job in 2018 and kept it the next two seasons. He was named third-team all-Big Ten as a sophomore and second-team all-Big Ten as a junior in 2019, starting 13 games both seasons.

Ruiz, who turns 21 in June, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft following his true junior season. At the NFL scouting combine, Ruiz took part in all the athletic testing drills and positional work.

Michigan C Cesar Ruiz has overcome a lot in his life, including losing his father when he was 8. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Michigan C Cesar Ruiz has overcome a lot in his life, including losing his father when he was 8. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Upside: Still young with ample upside. Has dealt with a lot in his life and puts a lot into his craft. Mentally and physically tough. Possesses natural leadership traits. Praised by coaching staff for handling scheme changes and line calls adeptly. Smart and able to adapt. Best prospect on a Michigan line that will have four starters on NFL rosters this summer.

Good shotgun center who gets into his blocks quickly. Good, thick trunk and some of the biggest mitts (11-inch hands!) you’ll ever see on a center, much less any human being.

Nimble, agile feet. Works up to the second level with head on a swivel, eager for action — not a clock-punch blocker. Pulls to the perimeter and hits moving targets well. Seals gaps and creates wide run lanes showed off his athleticism. Excels on combo blocks with little wasted movement or effort. Outstanding base — maximizes his power without negating his quickness.

Looked outstanding in positional drills at combine. Well coached and technically sound overall, especially for such a young player. Shoots hands off the snap and can derail rushers with quick pop. Fighter who doesn’t back down from tough matchups or physical mismatches.

Put on a show against Notre Dame in 2019 after struggling badly against the Irish the year prior — appeared to take the follow-up challenge personally. Michigan coaches gave him one of the highest grades for that game that they can remember in recent seasons. Ruiz (No. 51) dominated on Michigan’s first TD drive in that game, making several key blocks, despite poor (rainy) conditions.

Watch here on the first one as he pulls around and leads the way on a beautiful run, clearing Irish LB Asmar Bilal out:

This displays Ruiz's ability to make blocks on the move.
This displays Ruiz's ability to make blocks on the move.

Then Ruiz again gets into space and paves another huge hole prior to the touchdown:

Another great block on the move.
Another great block on the move.

Downside: Squatty frame — only average height and arm length. Played a little heavy last year — scouts estimate Ruiz was closer to 320 or 325 pounds — and likely best at his combine weight (307). Little flexibility — likely a center only in the NFL. Struggled at guard as freshman and might not have the girth or base strength to play more than a spot role there.

Started 2019 season slowly adapting to new offensive system — appeared hesitant and unsure at times (see Army, Wisconsin games). Might be best served in zone-based blocking scheme. Lacks the raw power to sit and anchor consistently. Better pass blocker than run blocker now but could struggle early in league against longer, quicker foes in single-block situations. Best operating with tighter splits, it appears.

Struggled with the length of Alabama’s Raekwon Davis, who stands 6-6 with 34-inch arms. The Crimson Tide parked Davis often right over Ruiz’s gap, and Davis was able to to extend his arms and get Ruiz back on his heels a lot in the bowl game. This type of play was all over that game tape:

The length of Bama's Raekwon Davis seemed to bother Ruiz.
The length of Bama's Raekwon Davis seemed to bother Ruiz.

Not as successful if he can’t land his initial punch. Lacks high-end explosion. Gets a bit jumpy and jittery in certain matchups and can play off balance. Has to stay square more often and stay on blocks — can depart too quickly and leave the job unfinished.

Will be mentally ready to handle a lot on his plate as a rookie but could face some humbling matchups early. Might need some help inside and can’t be asked to anchor a unit from Jump Street.

Best-suited destination: There is a lot to like about Ruiz’s game, and his youth makes him an exciting projection. Although he might not possess elite traits across the board, he has enough tangibles and plenty of intangibles to be an early starting center, preferably in a system that can showcase his movement skills where he can operate in space.

Among the teams that could be interested in his services includes: the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina Panthers and New York Jets.

Did you know: When Ruiz was 8, his father, Edwin, was hit by a car and killed while he was trying to help change a stranger’s tire on the side of a highway.

He was raised by his mother, Latoya Shambry, in a rough part of Camden, New Jersey, and times were tough. Cesar was in denial and acted out. Shambry did everything she could to keep him out of trouble and going on with his life.

“It'll test your character,” Ruiz said at the combine of his neighborhood. “It will either make or break you. There's a lot of people I grew up with ... it didn't make them, it broke them.

“You hear about violence, shootings, killings, rivalries. You hear that almost every week. So just things like that, it's something you become immune to. As a kid, you see it so many times. I mean, really, what I did, I was fortunate enough to have a mom that was really strict on me, so I was never really allowed to be in those areas or even be caught up in those situations.”

Ruiz started playing football at the age of 10. He said he was still mourning his father’s death then, and his mother wanted him out of the house — a distraction from tragedy. It helped become his passion.

“As a kid you play football, you don't really have any expectations or responsibilities,” he said. “You're just playing football because you love it. And then when I got to high school, that's when I realized this is probably something I'm going to do for a long time.”

Ruiz cites both of his parents as his heroes and talks about his father in the present tense at times.

“Me and my dad are really close,” he said. “I know my father would be extremely proud of me.”

They said it: “He’s a well-liked guy. Players gravitate to him. Coaches like him.”

— Jim Harbaugh on Ruiz

Player comp: Ruiz compares favorably to Minnesota Vikings 2019 first-rounder Garrett Bradbury and Chicago Bears 2018 second-rounder James Daniels

Expected draft range: Late Round 1 to early Round 2

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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