Menelik Watson – RT
Watson has had one of the more interesting — and frustrating — football odysseys around. A natural athlete who aspired to play soccer for Manchester City while growing up in Great Manchester, England, Watson broke his ankle as a teenager and was advised by a doctor to quit playing sports altogether.
He instead switched to basketball, and was good enough to garner a scholarship to Marist College in New York State. Realizing basketball wasn’t his calling, he transferred to known football powerhouse Saddleback College in 2012 and played American football for the first time at the tender age of 23.
Watson’s intelligence and 6’5, 300 pound frame combined with incredible footwork garnered on the soccer pitch and the basketball court allowed him to excel immediately. After one season he transferred to actual football powerhouse, Florida State where he promptly started 12 of his first 13 games.
Menelik declared for the NFL draft, and the Raiders saw enough in his limited experience but great football IQ and athleticism to take him in the second round of the 2013 draft.
Since then, he’s probably found himself thinking of soccer many days. He’s been injured a bit, mostly in his lower body. He missed significant time his rookie season with knee and calf injuries and again in 2014 with foot and ankle problems.
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Finally healthy coming into 2015 training camp, he was playing at a high level and poised to beat out incumbent starter Austin Howard for the right tackle job. But in the third preseason game, he tore his Achilles tendon. He missed all of 2015 and is eager to repay the team’s loyalty to him.
Watson has only been on the field for 17 of a possible 48 games in his career. The pressure is on.
He’s healthy again this season and played like a bona fide starter alongside lineman stalwarts Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn. He was winning the right tackle job anyway when Austin Howard went down in the final preseason game with a knee injury. Howard’s injury just made it obvious.
Watson is under significant pressure immediately, as he’s the only unproven commodity on the Raiders vaunted offensive line. He hasn’t seen many significant game snaps during meaningful action.
The Raiders are counting on their line to create holes for backs Latavius Murray and DeAndre Washington, and to give “Carr Insurance” to their valuable third-year signal caller.
Watson finally has a chance to prove he belongs at this level after many questioned McKenzie’s selecting him that high in the draft with his limited football experience. Nobody has ever questioned Watson’s size, strength, athleticism or work ethic. It’s the small sample size and inability to stay healthy that plague him. He has only played football for four years. Four.
McKenzie has paid a lot of money for this line and it’s supposed to be special. If Watson comes out Sunday and fails to protect Carr or open running lanes as per his job description, the Raiders know they have a viable replacement when Howard is healthy.
At 27 and with little actual game experience, Watson’s time is running out to show he’s the answer. He’s under pressure to play well to help the Raiders reach expectations — and to keep his job.
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