Center Cesar Ruiz leads cast of Michigan hopefuls into NFL Draft

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Former Michigan center Cesar Ruiz certainly believes he should be a first-round NFL Draft selection, and several draft analysts agree that with his talent and upside, he could be in for a long professional football career.

When the three-day NFL Draft begins Thursday, Michigan is expected to have a first-round selection for the second straight year. Devin Bush and Rashan Gary were first-round selections last year, and Ruiz could be the next. ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper has Ruiz at No. 27 in his most recent mock draft.

Former Michigan center Cesar Ruiz (51) could be a first-round selection in the NFL Draft.

There are a number of former Michigan players who will find out this week where they will be drafted or picked up in free agency to continue their playing careers. There were 11 former Wolverines at the NFL Combine: Ruiz, left guard Ben Bredeson, right guard Michael Onwenu, left tackle Jon Runyan, quarterback Shea Patterson, tight end Sean McKeon and receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. On defense, linebackers Josh Uche and Khaleke Hudson participated, as did safety Josh Metellus and cornerback Lavert Hill. Linebacker Jordan Glasgow and defensive end Mike Danna also have been preparing for the draft.

“If you look at the film if you look at how I dominate people, if you look at my character, how smart I am, I have everything that (it takes) for a first-rounder,” Ruiz said at the NFL Combine. “I’m very confident in myself that I am a first-rounder.”

Ruiz ran a 5.08 40-yard dash at the combine, did 28 bench press reps, and was timed at 4.64 in the 20-yard shuttle. He started at right guard the final games of his freshman year before moving to center his last two seasons.

“He has that ability to project to center or guard,” Kiper said of Ruiz, who has said he was born to play center. “He will go the first of that group.”

Former Michigan linebacker Josh Uche is considered a versatile player and caught the attention of scouts during the Senior Bowl in late January. He could be the next highest selection among Michigan players. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said he has been extremely impressed with Uche.

“I think Josh Uche will get eight to 10 sacks a year at the next level,” Jeremiah said.

During the 2019 season at Michigan, Uche had 11.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks last season. He also had two pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

Former Michigan players Josh Uche (6) and Ben Bredeson (74) could be Day 2 selections in this weekend's NFL Draft.

Bredeson, a two-time captain and starting left guard, has been called the best “pure guard” in the draft by Kiper.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Patterson and Peoples-Jones, both five-star recruits coming out of high school.

Peoples-Jones left Michigan with a year of eligibility remaining and had impressive numbers during the NFL Combine. He ran a 4.48 40 he ran at the combine, but he dazzled in the vertical and broad jumps. Peoples-Jones had the highest vertical jump among the receivers at 44.5 inches, which tied for third best at the combine since 2006. He also had the longest broad jump at 11 feet, 7 inches, tied for sixth best since 2006. Peoples-Jones said both were personal records.

Kiper recently said Peoples-Jones was a “first-round talent who didn’t play like a first rounder” at Michigan. Peoples-Jones missed the first few games with injury and finished third on the team in receiving with 438 yards and six touchdowns. ESPN college analyst Kirk Herbstreit said Peoples-Jones has tremendous upside.

“I think he’s scratching the surface of where he could eventually go,” Herbstreit said this week. “I think he’s still a little raw. He really had a great combine. He ran a 4.48 and a 44-inch vertical. He’s big, 6-2, 212, kinda everything you’re looking for physically.

“I do think his route running is going to continue to grow. He thinks a little bit raw on that side of things. But I love his competitive spirit. He’s a guy who will be able to make it in the NFL. It seems like in the NFL there’s one receiver, two or a three, and there’s no reason to think he cannot become a really solid two or three in the NFL.”

Patterson spent the first part of his career at Ole Miss before transferring to Michigan, where he started the last two years. He threw for 5,661 yards and 45 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. He ran for 273 yards and two touchdowns in 2018 and 50 yards and five touchdowns last season.

Kiper has said he could be a late draft selection or priority free agent.

“Because the way the NFL game is changing, I think his skill set five, seven or 10 years ago, would have been a very tough ask for his style to fit in the NFL,” Herbstreit said. “I think Shea has got to really grow when it comes to his ability to sit in that pocket, because you still ultimately have to be able to do that.

"I’ve watched a lot of tape of his where the pocket is clean and if the primary receiver is covered and he has to sit there for a hitch and another hitch, he gets out because he’s so athletic, and he’s always, his whole career, high school, college, he’s always been able to rely on his creativity. When you have that background as an athlete, you have the tendency to want to get out. And the NFL, man, they don’t like that. They want you to sit in there and let those linemen who are taught to create that pocket, why are you leaving this pocket when it’s clean? That to me is an area that he really has to continue to grow.”

Herbstreit appreciates Patterson’s toughness, both physical and mental, and said that combination will be an asset at the next level.

“What he’s been through at Ole Miss, what he went through at Michigan, the amount of pressure he's dealt with — you know how it is at Michigan. It’s one thing to win, but you better look good doing it, especially playing that position or you’re going to get a lot of critics,” he said.

"The fact he had to withstand all of that created some tough skin for him and I think that will help him as he moves up into the NFL. Reading coverages, being decisive, being able to sit in that pocket are all areas he’s got to really grow.”

Michigan NFL prospects

Here’s a look at Michigan’s players in the NFL Draft:

OG Ben Bredeson (6-5/316): The two-time captain made 46 starts at left guard during his Michigan career. He helped lead an offensive line that went from being considered a weak point to a strength especially the last two seasons under position coach Ed Warinner. Projected draft position: Rounds 3-4.

► DE Mike Danna (6-2, 262): While at Central Michigan, Danna accumulated 151 tackles, 27.5 TFLs and had 15 sacks before transferring to Michigan for his final year of eligibility in 2019. The extremely athletic end had 38 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. Projected draft position: Rounds 6-7.

LB Jordan Glasgow (6-1, 226): The hard-working younger brother of Graham and Ryan, who both played at Michigan and are now in the NFL, was hurt by not having a Pro Day and time to meet in person with teams. He’s tough and loves playing special teams. He was second on the team with 89 tackles, had seven tackles for loss and five sacks. Projected draft position: Free agent.

CB Lavert Hill (5-11, 182): The knock on Hill might be his size, but he is a proven strength in coverage. He had three interceptions and 10 pass breakups last season. Projected draft position: Rounds 3-5.

LB Khaleke Hudson (5-11, 220): Hudson led the Wolverines last season with 101 tackles, and had three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and three pass breakups last season. The issue for Hudson is where NFL teams see him fitting. He is caught between playing linebacker and safety but his desire to play special teams should work in his favor. Projected draft position: Round 6-free agent.

TE Sean McKeon (6-5, 230): McKeon was the Wolverines best all-around tight end and was noted for his blocking ability. He finished sixth on the team in receiving with 235 yards and two touchdowns. He has been described as a “versatile big-body tight end” which makes him valuable to NFL teams. Projected draft position: Rounds 6-7.

S Josh Metellus (5-11, 210): Metellus finished last season with 74 tackles, third on the team, two interceptions and five pass breakups. Projected draft position: Rounds 6-7.

OL Michael Onwenu (6-3, 350): Onwenu made his most progress at right guard his final season with the Wolverines. He is strong and light on his feet but most analysts see him initially working on special teams. Projected draft position: Round 6-free agent.

QB Shea Patterson (6-1, 202): Opinions on Patterson’s draft stock vary by analyst. Patterson, who played for four offensive coordinators during his career which began at Ole Miss, started the last two seasons at Michigan and threw for 5,661 yards and had 45 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He threw for 3,061 yards and 23 touchdowns against eight interceptions last season. Projected draft position: Round 6-free agent.

WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (6-2, 208): There’s no doubt Peoples-Jones, who missed the first few games last season with injury, has talent and he is part of a deep draft class for receivers. Peoples-Jones was third on the team in receiving with 438 yards and six touchdowns. Projected draft position: Rounds 4-5.

OL Cesar Ruiz (6-4, 319): NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said Ruiz plays with “great awareness” and maybe doesn’t have the quickest feet, but is impressive at the point of contact. He said Ruiz is steady and a “know-exactly-what-you're-getting player who can get a chance to be a Pro Bowl caliber center.” Projected draft position: Rounds 1-2.

OL Jon Runyan (6-5, 321): Runyan was steady at left tackle the last two seasons and earned All-Big Ten first-team honors the last two years. For the record, his father, Jon Runyan, was taken in the fourth round of the 1996 draft. Projected draft position: Rounds 5-7.

LB Josh Uche (6-1, 241): Uche is one of the more intriguing players at his position. Uche had 35 tackles last season, including 11.5 tackles for loss and a team-best 8.5 sacks. Jeremiah said Uche has a motor that “jumps out to you. … I think he's just a really good football player and I like kind of the edge that he plays with.” Projected draft position: Rounds 2-3.

Twitter: @chengelis