Raiders head coach Dennis Allen (above) believes rookie lineman Menelik Watson has a big upside. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Until the Raiders see Menelik Watson against live opponents in full-speed exhibition games this summer, the team won’t be entirely sure what it has in the big Brit.
Watson, the offensive tackle from Florida State, was the Raiders’ No. 2 pick in the April draft, but is a bit of a project. He’s extremely athletic, but has played football just three years, at Saddleback Community College in Southern California and Florida State.
But Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen like his size, strength, footwork and athletic ability and believe he could develop into a top offensive lineman.
After all, he’s a former boxer and college basketball player.
Through rookie minicamp, organized team activities (OTAs) and the mandatory, full-squad minicamp in June, Watson did well and could be projected to play at right tackle or right guard. Should he develop over the next couple of seasons, the Raiders could start reaping the rewards of investing in their offensive line in recent seasons, with top picks Jared Veldheer (third round, 2010), center Stefen Wisniewski (second round, 2011) and left guard Tony Bergstrom (third round, 2012) already established or establishing themselves.
Allen believes the fact Watson's already learned so much in three years in the sport proves his ceiling is high.
“Absolutely, I think one of the things you look at with a guy like that is you look at tremendous upside,” Allen told the media after Watson was drafted. “This guy’s got tremendous upside. Having him here and having one of the top O-line coaches in the National Football League in my opinion in Tony Sparano, I have no doubt that this guy’s going to develop into a solid NFL player.”
Allen said the Raiders liked him from the start because of his athletic ability.
“He’s got excellent feet and he’s got a great punch,” he said.
After minicamp in June, Watson told the Daily Mail newspaper in England that it’s been an intense learning process since joining the Raiders.
“You have to have the right techniques to go down with the assignments and try to be assignment-perfect. Work on things that are going to be important going into training camp,” said Watson.
Watson says veteran tackles Veldheer and Khalif Barnes have been extremely helpful with him on the field and in the film room.
“I’m picking it up really fast but obviously I’m always learning, so they’re giving me little hints, or on certain plays: ‘You need to change it up a little bit,’ as everyone at this level is real fast,” Watson told the Daily Mail.
Watson told the paper he’s not worried at this point where he is on the offensive line. Can he beat out Barnes at right tackle? Will he move to right guard? He’ll let other people worry about those scenarios.
“Right now my expectations are just learn the playbook, be assignment-perfect and be ready when my name’s called,” he said. “I’m not focusing on the depth chart and all that stuff. My goal is just to be ready.”