New Orleans drafts Michigan offensive lineman Ruiz with No. 24 overall pick

The New Orleans Saints selected Michigan center-guard Cesar Ruiz with the No. 24 overall pick during Thursday’s NFL Draft. — Photo courtesy of CBS Sports
The New Orleans Saints selected Michigan center-guard Cesar Ruiz with the No. 24 overall pick during Thursday’s NFL Draft. — Photo courtesy of CBS Sports

The New Orleans Saints surprised many by not moving up in Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft. The Saints remained at No. 24 and then made another surprising move by selecting Michigan offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz — a move that even caught Ruiz off guard.

“No, I did not think at that moment, no, because I thought you guys (New Orleans) made a pick already and I did not think I was the guy and I received the call with like two minutes left on the clock. It was unbelievable,” Ruiz said.

The 6-foot-3, 307-pound Ruiz became a starter for the Wolverines as a true freshman and then earned third team All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore and locked up second team honors last season. Ruiz showed flexibility in college lining up at both guard and center and will likely line up at guard for the Saints backing up Larry Warford and Andrus Peat.

“Yeah, look, one of the areas we wanted to do improve in this draft was an interior offensive lineman and those are hard players to find later in their draft,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said. “We had a real high grade on Cesar (Ruiz). He was a guy that I would say, we had a lot of information on. He was extremely, extremely productive. A tough player at Michigan, played with great balance. We feel like he’s got guard flex and we also feel like (Erik) McCoy has that same type of flexibility.”

Payton further added, “We have some flexibility and I think the obvious question would be, hey, he’s a center, you had a center last year. Obviously we think one of them is going to be a guard because we weren’t drafting someone that high to come in and be a backup.”

Ruiz is confident that he can play either position for the Saints.

“Yeah, I can play any position along the interior,” Ruiz said. “I have familiarity with everything. Center, guard so I can play everything across the interior offensive line and that’s where my versatility comes into place. Whatever Coach (Payton) wants me to play, that’s what I’m going to play.”

Many draft experts predicted that the Saints would draft a linebacker, a position of need in Thursday’s first round. With LSU’s Patrick Queen still on the board when the Saints were ready to pick at No. 24, many Tiger and Saints fans thought Queen would become the first LSU player selected by New Orleans in the first round in franchise history.

Instead the Saints took the versatile offensive lineman out of Michigan while Queen was selected later by the Baltimore Ravens. Ruiz was a four-star recruit out of famed IMG Academy in Florida in 2016 when he signed with Michigan.

Ruiz, who lost his father at the age of 8 from a traffic accident, was clearly emotional after being drafted on Thursday night.

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking about,” Ruiz said. “Just my dad. I dedicate my whole journey and everything I do to him. The first picture I had in my head was my dad and then I looked on the screen and they put a picture of my dad on the screen. That’s really where all of them emotion came from and a big part of it was also just the excitement and the relief.”