Saints’ Cesar Ruiz still straddles the line between draft bust or draft success

Cesar Ruiz, New Orleans Saints (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Cesar Ruiz, New Orleans Saints (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Two years after he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints, Cesar Ruiz hasn’t proven to be a total bust, but he could hardly be considered a star, either.

As the 24th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, former Michigan center Cesar Ruiz was touted to serve as a starting-caliber offensive lineman for the Saints for the foreseeable future. NOLA used him both at right guard and center for the last two seasons, and he most recently played snaps at the center position to fill in for an injured Erik McCoy in 2021.

The results were mixed, to say the least, as Ruiz ended up struggling at both O-line positions last season and hasn’t yet lived up to his first-round potential.

Is it about time to call Ruiz a draft bust? Not yet, says The Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner. Give it another year.

Baumgardner recently took a look at every first-round offensive player selected in the 2020 NFL Draft and put each player in one of three categories: hit, on the fence, or whiff.

Saints’ Ruiz belonged in the “on the fence” group:

"Ruiz needs a big year in 2022 or he’ll slide into the whiff category pretty quickly. The only reason he’s not there now, frankly, is due to the fact New Orleans has moved him back and forth a bit between guard and center. At the same time, that’s a bit understandable, as his early season stretch at center in 2021 was concerning. Ruiz likely needs to be a center in the NFL because that’s where his best value lives, but he has work to do."

The Saints are still hoping for a breakout year from Cesar Ruiz in 2022

The numbers certainly suggest Ruiz is fizzling out — the Saints offensive lineman started 17 games last year and earned a mediocre 57.6 Pro Football Focus grade.

In his tape, Ruiz can look dominant during one play but sloppy during the next, and it goes without saying that he needs to improve both his production and consistency to become a cornerstone piece of NOLA’s O-line.

Heading into 2022, the Saints’ offensive line starters will likely be James Hurst, Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy, Ruiz, and Ryan Ramczyk, and in that group Ruiz stands out as arguably the weakest link. Calvin Throckmorton sits behind Ruiz on the depth chart and could plug in if need be, but the Saints are hoping Ruiz improves his game enough to keep the starting right guard position.

There’s a chance Ruiz may need to slide into center if McCoy gets hurt again, but after last year’s mishaps, NOLA can’t trust him to perform well at the position for long stretches of the season. Right now, Ruiz’s best bet is developing into an elite right guard — if he can put together a successful season in his third year in the league, he may be able to shed his bust label before it’s too late.

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Here’s hoping Ruiz seriously impresses in 2022.