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A few years ago, it was like pulling teeth to find something nice to say about Michigan’s offensive line. Now, after two years under position coach Ed Warinner, a couple of Wolverines are projected to go high in the upcoming NFL Draft.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper believes center Cesar Ruiz, who left Michigan with a year of eligibility remaining, could be a late first-round selection and said Ben Bredeson, a two-year captain, is the best pure guard in the draft. Kiper, speaking on a conference call Wednesday, also said linebacker Josh Uche, who turned heads with his performance last month at the Senior Bowl, will be the top Michigan defensive selection in the draft.

Quarterback Shea Patterson could go in the last two rounds, Kiper said, but sees him as a priority free agent.

The NFL Combine begins Tuesday in Indianapolis, and 11 former Michigan players were invited, including Ruiz, Bredeson, right guard Michael Onwenu and left tackle Jon Runyan, as well as Patterson, tight end Sean McKeon and receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. On defense, Uche was invited along with linebacker Khaleke Hudson, safety Josh Metellus and cornerback Lavert Hill.

“Bredeson, to me if you look at the pure guards, a lot of these guys can be versatile guys inside / outside, but of the pure guards, I think he’s arguably the best in this draft,” Kiper said, who projects Bredeson a third-round selection.

Ruiz started at right guard the final games of his freshman year before moving to center his last two seasons. Kiper, in his latest Big Board projection, has Ruiz going to Kansas City late in the first round. He has the 6-foot-4, 319-pound Ruiz rated higher than Garrett Bradbury, the top-rated center in 2019.

“When you think about Bredeson and Runyan, Ruiz is the one that has moved way up,” Kiper said. “He played guard early on in his career then solidified with the anchor at the center spot and kept getting better and better. He has a chance to be a first-round pick. I tried to get him in that 20-32 range and got him to Kansas City. Maybe (he will go) a little higher because he has that ability to project to center or guard. He will go the first of that group.”

Patterson started the last two seasons at Michigan after transferring from Ole Miss. At the Senior Bowl, he had a 75-yard touchdown and an interception.

“I have an undrafted free-agent grade on him,” Kiper said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he was a sixth-, seventh-round pick.”

Peoples-Jones, the 6-2, 208-pound receiver, also left Michigan with a year of eligibility remaining. He missed the first few games of the last season because of injury. Kiper has a fourth- to fifth-round grade on him.

“I just saw some inconsistencies with him,” Kiper said. “I want to see him become more of a power forward and take advantage of that size advantage that he has a little bit better and more effectively and more consistently than he did.”

Uche has definitely seen his star rise since the Senior Bowl. Kiper sees him as a “solid” second-round pick with the possibility of moving into the first.

“The pass-rush ability he has, the bend off the edge and with the Senior Bowl week and all that, I wouldn’t be shocked if he jumped into the late first because pass-rushers go,” Kiper said.

The combine will be important for Metellus, he said, especially in terms of the measurables, especially how he runs.

“I think that will determine where he ends up in the draft,” he said.

For Hill, the 5-11, 182-pound cornerback, Kiper said there’s a question of his physicality.

“As a cover guy, as a nickel, dime, certainly you need four, five corners now, that’s the way the league is. You’ve got to be able to match up in coverage against all these receiving options teams have,” Kiper said when asked where he sees Hill fitting in the NFL. “The size and lack of physicality is important, especially with tackling and being able to be a guy you can trust in that area when you’re one-on-one. You’ve got to be able to make a play and not allow yards after a catch or take down a running back, tight end.

“You’ve got to be able to make those plays in open space. That’s a question about Lavert Hill. But as a cover guy, though, he showed he can get the job done. With the way the game is played, I can see if he tests great end up being in that, I’d say, third to fifth round.”

Michigan players at NFL Combine

Ben Bredeson, OL

Lavert Hill, DB

Khaleke Hudson, LB

Sean McKeon, TE

Josh Metellus, DB

Mike Onwenu, OL

Shea Patterson, QB

Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR

Cesar Ruiz, OL

Jon Runyan, OL

Josh Uche, LB

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