Why Menelik Watson Has Everything to Prove in Oakland Raiders Training Camp

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2015

The top of the Oakland Raiders' 2013 draft class stands on shaky ground heading into the 2015 NFL season.

Most eyeballs will be fixated on cornerback D.J. Hayden (No. 12 overall), but offensive tackle Menelik Watson (No. 42 overall) should also garner moderate expectations. Watson was unable to sustain momentum in his second year after an injury-riddled rookie campaign.

Watson played 12 games and started nine in 2014, alternating with offensive tackle Khalif Barnes on the right side of the offensive line:

Menelik Watson vs. Khalif Barnes at Right Tackle in 2014
PlayerSnapsSacks AllowedHurries AllowedPenalties/Overturned
Khalif Barnes5074133/0
Menelik Watson4962216/2
Pro Football Focus

Watson must address two problems during the offseason: hand placement and footwork. Defensive ends were able to get around him on the edge too easily, based on the 21 hurries he allowed last season, per Pro Football Focus. His footwork could be the culprit for this particular shortcoming.

He accumulated six penalties, although two were overturned. This may indicate issues with hand placement, which NFL.com’s Mike Mayock pointed out prior to the 2013 draft:

Hand placement is poor. Often hits outside of the frame, and will have a tendency to get overly grabby. Will result in more penalties in the NFL. Needs to play with a wider base. Inconsistent with his footwork.

The fact that Watson’s hand- and footwork were questionable coming into the league, combined with his limited experience, led to trouble in the absence of reps. Watson sat on the bench for a majority of his rookie year with a calf injury. Foot and ankle ailments shortened his 2014 season.

ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson provided some refreshing information about Watson’s progress. He leads the competition over Austin Howard at right tackle. The former second-rounder is showing progress in technical skills. Typically, footwork and hand placement are the focus points for offensive linemen during minicamp and organized team activities when practicing without pads.

The Raiders need Watson to flash competence as a starter regardless of Howard's move back to his natural position at tackle. Oakland has a legitimate problem at right guard, and Watson might be capable of shifting inside as an interior lineman, per Mayock:

Watson has rare athletic ability on a tremendous frame. He has an explosive first step, light feet, and a powerful punch. There are a lot of things in his game that need to be cleaned up from a technique standpoint, and he will be 25 years old in his rookie season. He can project to either tackle spot, or possibly even inside, at guard.

The Raiders have continually ignored third-year offensive guard Lamar Mady in favor of offensive tackles J’Marcus Webb, Barnes and even Howard at the right guard spot. Offensive line coach Mike Tice could opt to continue the trend and make an effort to salvage Watson’s career if he loses the training-camp battle at right tackle.

Watson bounced around multiple sports, including soccer, basketball and boxing, before settling on a career in football. Before entering the NFL, he played as an offensive lineman for only one year at Saddleback Junior College and one year at Florida State.

Development isn’t tied to age; it’s tied to time spent learning at a particular position. At 26 years old, Watson is still a developmental prospect. He has spent approximately four years at his position.

Most third-year NFL players have spent six to seven years at their positions. Furthermore, most players participated in Pop Warner youth football leagues and on high school varsity teams as adolescents. Watson started off playing soccer with a passion for basketball. He didn't consider football until his adult years.

It shows his unique athleticism, but consider him a relatively raw NFL prospect.

This isn’t an excuse, but it puts Watson’s learning curve in perspective. He has time to progress but must stay healthy throughout training camp, the preseason and the regular season to evolve.

The right tackle position projects as Watson’s starting job to lose. The Raiders know what they have in Howard, a five-year veteran, but their No. 42 overall pick from the 2013 draft remains a mysterythough it’s possible that there’s a gem waiting to be discovered.

 

What are your thoughts on Menelik Watson? All comments are welcome below. Follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for NFL and Raiders news.

All statistics are provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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