Raiders take offensive lineman Watson in 2nd round
Published: Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8:26 p.m.
ALAMEDA — Five years ago, Sio Moore had never played linebacker. That was a world of experience compared to Menelik Watson, who had barely heard of football.
Friday, the Raiders made Watson their second-round draft choice (at No. 42 overall), and Moore their third-rounder (at No. 66).
What the two players lack in pedigree, they seem to make up for with confidence, personality and raw athleticism.
“I spoke to both those players after we took them, and both of them have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. “They want to prove that they belong in the NFL, they want to prove that they were worthy of being picked where they were picked and, really, in their minds, should have been picked sooner. So that's a great thing.”
Watson's path to the NFL was wildly meandering. Born in Manchester, England, he grew up playing soccer and basketball. In fact, at 15 or 16 he played in a national basketball championship against Jack Crawford, now a Raiders defensive end.
Watson wound up playing hoops at Canarias Basketball Academy in Spain, then for a traveling Spanish club, and earned a scholarship to Marist College in New York as a power forward. He stayed there two years before leaving school, then took up boxing.
Only at that point did Watson consider playing football. He got an opportunity at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, playing alongside Kyle Long — son of Raiders great Howie Long and a first-round pick by the Bears on Thursday.
“I remember in our first practice, we were in a pass play and I didn't know you weren't supposed to go upfield on a pass play,” Watson said. “So I just grabbed this defensive end and just ran him all the way up the field about 10 yards, and coach Mac (Mark McElroy) down there at Saddleback was watching film, and he was like, 'Son, you can't do that.' It's a pass play and he was like, 'Oh, my God, what am I working with?'”
Watson proved to be a quick study, though. He started seven of eight games at right tackle for Saddleback, and 12 of 13 after transferring to Florida State.
He helped the Seminoles set school records for total yards (6,591) and rushing touchdowns (40) and tantalized scouts with his size, footwork and explosiveness.
Clearly, though, Watson is a work in progress. As NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock put it: “He has no idea what he is doing, but he is gifted as all get-out.”
Moore, who was born in Liberia, was a three-year starter at Connecticut — where current Raiders safety Tyvon Branch, then a Husky, gave him his initial campus tour — but flew under the radar for most of that time. Moore had played running back in high school, and was not highly recruited.
Despite his productivity at UConn, Moore was a marginal NFL prospect as the 2012 season drew to a close. Then he set about impressing coaches and scouts at all-star games, the scouting combine and his pro day.
That included the Raiders, who coached Moore's North squad at the Senior Bowl in late January. He was a late addition, having earned a spot through his stellar play in the East-West Shrine Game, and the Oakland staff loved his energy — and his bravado.
Moore was the top-rated linebacker on his own draft board.
“Like I said from the beginning of this whole draft process, there's going to be one team that's going to fall in love and make the right pick, and there's going to be 31 other teams that are going to be pissed off,” Moore said. “The Oakland Raiders got the best linebacker in the draft, I don't care who went before.”
At 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, Moore is not so big by NFL standards. But he is fast, heady and incredibly versatile.
“Truthfully, when I was at UConn my coaches put me in a position to play each and every position on the field, regardless of me being a true linebacker,” Moore said. “I played Sam, I played Will, I played like a down free safety, I even played a bit of off-corner. I played a D-end with his hand in the ground and a two-point (stance).”
Asked if he didn't play kicker as well, Moore answered: “I didn't kick. I probably could have.”
If neither of these picks seemed destined for the NFL, both may have been meant for the Raiders. Moore confided that his entire draft entourage wore black even before he got the call Friday, and he recently bought his best friend a shirt that read “California.” Watson, meanwhile, inherited a used Raiders jersey as a child — though he had “no clue” what the name referred to.
Now the Raiders must hope that the clothes make the men, and the men make this team more formidable.
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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