Michigan center Cesar Ruiz felt certain he was a first-round NFL Draft selection, and he was right. Still, he was overcome with emotion when he heard his name called in the first round and broke down crying while surrounded by family at his home in New Jersey.
Ruiz was taken by the New Orleans Saints with the 24th pick in the opening round of the draft on Thursday night. Michigan players have gone in the first round for two straight years, with Devin Bush and Rashan Gary last year and now Ruiz.
“It’s amazing, man,” Ruiz said in a television interview Thursday night, according to NOLA.com. “I’ve worked my whole life for this. I work my tail off every single day. Day in and day out. And it’s just an amazing feeling to hear my name called by the New Orleans Saints. It’s amazing.”
The draft continues Friday and Saturday, and there are a number of former Michigan players waiting to find out where they will continue playing football: left guard Ben Bredeson, right guard Michael Onwenu, left tackle Jon Runyan, quarterback Shea Patterson, tight end Sean McKeon, receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, defensive end Mike Danna, safety Josh Metellus, cornerback Lavert Hill and linebackers Josh Uche, Khaleke Hudson and Jordan Glasgow.
The 6-foot-3, 307-pound Ruiz, who had a year of eligibility left, had been gradually moving up in the first round of several mock drafts.
"He was one of the better interior lineman I've seen in a while," Saints coach Sean Payton told reporters. "We knew we were choosing a real good football player."
Ruiz told reporters in a post-draft interview session that his strengths are pass protection, his ability to pull, and getting to the second level. He said he can play in any offensive scheme. Payton had praised his football smarts and said Ruiz wasn't drafted to be a backup.
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said during a recent conference call that Ruiz reminded him of Travis Frederick when he was came out of Wisconsin in 2013.
“He’s consistent each and every game. He plays with great awareness. He’s not the quickest afoot, but he does a nice job of latching on (to a defender), and he’s good on combo blocks.
“To me, he’s a ‘Steady Eddie.’ High floor, know-exactly-what-you’re-getting player who will get a chance to be a Pro Bowl-caliber center. I’m a big fan.”
Ruiz said at the NFL Combine that he was motivated daily by the memory of his father, Cesar Edwin Ruiz, who was killed in 2007 when his son, Cesar, was eight years old. His father was helping a stranger fix a tire on the side of the road in Camden, New Jersey, when he was struck and killed by a car.
"I dedicate this whole journey to my dad," Ruiz told reporters Thursday night.
Ruiz had said something similar at the combine referring to the tragedy he and his family endured.
“I still do it, every night, every day I think about it, wish my dad was here to see what I’m doing right now," Ruiz said at the combine. "He’d be mind blown. I’m still playing for my dad. I still play through my dad. My dad still lives through me. That’s how it’s always going to be.”
Ruiz's mother, Latoya Shambry, got him involved in football when he was 10 years old to get him out of the house, he said.
“It was kind of a therapeutic thing for me, one of her things, because I was still mourning the death of my father, and she saw it,” Ruiz said at the combine. “Basically, what she did was try to find something that would help me out.
“I never stopped playing it. I had fun doing it. As a kid you play football, you don't really have any expectations or responsibilities. You're just playing football because you love it. And then when I got to high school, that's when I realized this is probably something I'm going to do for a long time.”
Ruiz came to Michigan from Florida's IMG Academy and became a steady force in the middle of the offensive line the last two seasons under position coach Ed Warinner. Ruiz ran a 5.08-second 40-yard dash at the combine, did 28 reps on the bench press and was timed at 4.64 seconds 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, so he has versatility to play guard or center in the NFL.
“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.
McKeon praised Ruiz for his leadership in the weight room at Michigan and for his ability to pick up the offense when he was a sophomore.
“It surprised me how quickly he was able to pick up the offense and make the calls,” McKeon said at the combine. “He did a great job with that, making calls, changing the protection and things like that. It was pretty impressive stuff.”