One of the 2013 NFL Draft’s most interesting offensive line prospects, Manchester born Menelik Watson joined the Raiders as a player who not only was one of the best linemen in college football at Florida State but also a player with tremendous upside. Picking up football naturally at a later age due to his England roots, Watson’s potential to be molded into an elite talent with impressive footwork had many excited to see how his rise through the NCAA would translate to the NFL.
That didn’t exactly get to happen during his rookie season where the second round pick spent most of his time injured, never getting to 100% health in a year where he spent most of the year on the inactive list in what was a difficult season for the Raiders when it came to getting their early draft picks on the field in their rookie seasons.
With DJ Hayden already on the shelf with a walking boot for an injury being reported as a “rolled ankle,” Watson has participated in all of the Raiders OTA’s and has earned the attention of head coach Dennis Allen who has noticed Watson’s hunger and intensity in fighting for a starting spot in his sophomore season in Oakland.
“Menelik is a guy that obviously didn’t get much work last year and so he was behind the learning curve, but I’ve seen significant improvement in Menelik this year” said Allen during his presser with media members at Raiders OTA’s on Monday.
Allen noted that Watson’s health and ability to participate on the field is ultimately the most important factor in the second round pick developing into a consistent figure on the Raiders offensive line and becoming a starter in the NFL.
“Number one, he’s been out here every day and I think that’s important for him,” said Allen. “He’s improving on his technique and I think that’s where you get young guys specifically, they’ve got a lot of technique and fundamental work that they’ve got to improve on, whether it be footwork, hand placement, whatever the case may be.”
Allen also touched on Watson’s mentality, noting that like with Hayden the setbacks of injuries as a rookie likely came into play when Watson was healthy enough to play and that he has saw a desire in Watson to earn a starting job in the 2014 season.
“I’ve seen some improvement in that regard from him and he’s got to continue to work on that and I think his mindset is in the right way,” Allen said. “He’s attacked this offseason with a purpose and the purpose to earn a starting spot on that offensive line. Hopefully he’ll continue to improve the way he has so far in the OTAs.”
“Some of that, this game is a psychological game. It’s 90 percent mental and so you have to evaluate each case on an individual basis and sometimes you want to see guys that have setbacks or have adversity, you want to see them be able to fight through and how they go about fighting through that. Sometimes it’s a case where you’ve got to pick a guy up, sometimes you’ve got to kick them in the tail. The thing I like about where Menelik is right now, I like his mindset. I like his mentality. I like the way he’s going about doing his job, the way he’s working.”
Watson may be hard pressed to earn a starting job in a new look Oakland offensive line that will be long on veteran talent as Kevin Boothe, Austin Howard and Donald Penn have all joined the team along with third round pick Gabe Jackson who was a four year starter in the SEC at Mississippi State. Throw in the likes of Khalif Barnes, Lucas Nix, Lamar Mady and Tony Bergstrom and the Raiders position battles for starting offensive line jobs this season looks to be one of the fiercest leading up to training camp. Something that will put Watson into the mix right away in terms of getting ready for a competitive 2014 as he will have to earn a starting job.
A second round pick just one year ago Watson will have the edge of being a promising young prospect that the Raiders still have hopes of grooming into a franchise tackle down the road. With Jared Veldheer off to Arizona the young former Seminole is currently the Raiders best hope of developing a new top end starter at the position in-house. First things first for Watson will be proving to the Raiders staff that he can play out a full NFL season, if he can do that his climb to becoming a longterm fixture atop the Raiders offensive line depth chart will be a lot less difficult. A promising player, Watson first has to prove that he can do the job before he takes the next step in becoming a reliable young player for the Raiders.