Cesar Ruiz figured his time had run out.
Not that the center didn't believe he'd be drafted; he knew that would happen, with him being the highest graded player in his position in the 2020 NFL Draft. His stock was up, his versatility was a plus, his leadership was unquestioned and his level of play, against some of the best competition in college football while he was at Michigan, had been important in his development.
But as the draft marched on – No. 1 overall pick, No. 5, No. 10, No. 15, No. 20 – the doubt started to seep in a bit.
"I really just remember myself getting really, as the first round started coming to an end, I started getting really anxious and started to accept the fact that we're going to have to come back here another day," Ruiz said.
He was wrong – happily so.
Because as quickly as Ruiz tamped down his expectations, the New Orleans Saints provided reason for his emotions again to soar. The Saints used their first-round pick, No. 24 overall, on Ruiz and immediately announced that the incoming rookie would be expected to play a major role for a team that was seeking its fourth straight NFC South Division title.
"As soon as I started feeling like (he wouldn't be drafted in the first round), my phone started ringing," said Ruiz, who is 6 feet 4 and 316 pounds. "So that's the reason my emotions started flaring so much, because I basically put my guard down and then, boom, that was that."
The emotional flare to which he referred were the tears shed after he was picked, due in part to his actual selection and in part to acknowledgement of his father, Cesar Edwin Ruiz. His father was killed when Ruiz was eight years old, struck by a motorist while helping a driver change tires.
While remembering his father, Ruiz was able to share the moment with family and friends who were allowed to witness the event, likely a considerably smaller unit than it ordinarily might have been due to the adherence to Covid-19 restrictions.
"There's nobody else I would rather share it with," he said. "I'm just glad I was able to share that moment with my immediate family and my closest friends, people that were with me my entire life that saw me grow into the person I am today. It was amazing to share that moment with them."
His ability and performance ensured that they wouldn't have to wait the extra day in order to witness Ruiz's jubilation.
"I always had those dreams and aspirations," he said. "I always told myself, 'I want to be a first-round pick, I want to be a first-round pick.' And then it wasn't until around the NFL Combine and draft time, I was like, 'This could really happen.' "
And after it happened?
"It was like a shock and a relief, kind of," Ruiz said. "More of a relief, I was just tired of sitting there. But shock because I wasn't expecting the Saints to pick me at all. So that was more of a shock."
At the time Ruiz was drafted, New Orleans had returning starters at center and guard but shortly after the draft, the Saints released right guard Larry Warford. Though Ruiz was expected to compete at center and, perhaps, allow Erik McCoy to move from center to right guard, a training camp injury slowed Ruiz's development and by the time he returned healthy, McCoy was solidly entrenched.
Ruiz started nine of his 15 regular-season games at guard, but is happy where he landed and with his position.
"I had a couple of teams that I thought were going to pick me, but they had already picked," he said. "They all picked before the Saints, so at that point I just had no clue who was going to pick me.
"God definitely put me in this position for a good reason. I honestly fell in love with the city of New Orleans immediately. It was the perfect place for me."