2020 NFL Draft: Cesar Ruiz a dark-horse 49ers pick at No. 31
By Peter Panacy
The San Francisco 49ers are likely to add a wide receiver with one of their two first-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, but Michigan lineman Cesar Ruiz is a player to watch at the end of Round 1.
The whole scenario for the San Francisco 49ers‘ 2020 NFL Draft plans changed when the team traded away defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 overall pick.
Now armed with two first-round selections, the other being No. 31 overall, general manager John Lynch can go in a completely different direction than many likely would have suspected before the trade.
While wide receiver is generally viewed as the team’s top need, it’s not hard to see why the offensive line could use some help entering this season. Last year, attrition was a big issue. Both tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, missed time with lengthy injuries. Center Weston Richburg landed on injured reserve late in the year, and no-longer-in-San Francisco guard Mike Person missed two games at the end of 2019, too.
It’s always important to note good teams build first in the trenches and keep those line-of-scrimmage units reinforced as much as possible.
And one of those possibilities growing among Niners discussion circles is the addition of Michigan interior lineman Cesar Ruiz with the team’s second pick in the draft.
Our friend Dan Schmelzer over at NFL Mocks had plenty of good things to say about Ruiz, touting him as “arguably the best interior offensive lineman” in this year’s draft:
"Ruiz does have a bit of a narrow base, but he has long arms, big hands and is powerful in the lower half. He is a tough and physical player who is always working to make his block and he also shows impressive on-field awareness. Ruiz has the mental capacity to handle the center position at the next level.He is an extremely quick and athletic interior offensive lineman who fires off of the ball quickly at all times. Ruiz also shows impressive lateral agility and moves extremely well in space. He will have no issues as a second-level blocker in the NFL."
Schmelzer’s last two sentences should be what draw 49ers fans to Ruiz. Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s outside-zone blocking scheme calls for plenty of lateral movement and the ability to maintain blocks, both in space and at the second level on extended plays.
Few in this year’s draft do so as well as Ruiz from within the interior. And you can get the idea of this from the video below (Ruiz is No. 51):
Ruiz didn’t appear in too many Round 1 big boards until recently. But that started to change with his impressive 5.08 40-yard time at the NFL Combine — not bad at all for a 6-foot-3, 307-pound lineman.
And it’s not hard to find both the short- and long-term ramifications for San Francisco going this route, should Lynch choose to do so.
Ruiz is likely a plug-and-play prospect, which would free up the likely candidate to otherwise start, Daniel Brunskill, to continue his role as a swing tackle and potential long-term replacement for veteran left tackle Joe Staley. In addition to that idea, Ruiz blossoming with the Niners could afford the team the opportunity to move on from left guard Laken Tomlinson in 2021, saving $5 million against the cap with $1.25 million in dead money.
In an ideal world, because the 49ers currently don’t have picks in Rounds 2 through 4, Lynch trades out of No. 31 overall and still manages to land Ruiz, adding some more draft capital to address other areas of need, such as cornerback and tight end depth.
Still, it’s likely few would complain if San Francisco landed one of the most promising interior linemen in this year’s draft, Ruiz, when the Niners’ number is called for a second time in this year’s NFL Draft.