Name: Menelik Watson
Height: 6’5" Weight: 315 lbs
Age: 28 Experience: 5th
College: Florida State
Menelik Watson came to US from Manchester, England after earning a basketball scholarship to a small New York college. This scholarship came after playing two years on a traveling basketball team from Spain.
While in the states, Watson visited Florida State and “fell in love” with it and with football. After a year at a junior college playing alongside now NFL guard, Kyle Long, Watson earned a spot at right tackle on the Seminole’s squad.
Watson declared for the draft the next year and was drafted by the Oakland Raiders. While with the Raiders he started off and on at both tackle positions, and struggled to stay healthy. In 2015 he lost his entire season to a torn Achilles tendon.
Denver saw enough of him in his limited snaps to sign him to a 3-year/$18M contract. However, when looking closer at the deal, it is essentially a one-year deal with two additional years built in if Denver likes what they see in 2017.
This deal is a savvy one by John Elway as it is essentially a one-year “prove it” deal with a very low cap hit for 2017 (lower than Donald Stephenson). Additionally, the dead money in 2018 is just a little over $2.5M so if things don’t work out this year, the Broncos can cut Watson will relatively little repercussions.
Watson is a big, athletic guy that has all the physical tools you want in an offensive tackle. When watching him on tape, he shows good hand usage in pass protection and moves well in the run game. When he’s been on the field, he looks the part of a solid right tackle.
BSN Denver has some good film examples from Watson over the last few years that are worth checking out and Mile High Huddle did a great breakdown piece on Watson recently as well (requires premium subscription).
Here was their conclusion after watching his film:
If Menelik Watson can finally stay healthy for a full 16-game season, the Broncos might have found the answer at the right tackle spot. He has raw power, a great punch, and an aggressive attitude that should make him a fan favorite opening holes for the running backs.
However, he needs to take his pass blocking to another level of consistency snap in and snap out and stop getting lazy in his technique. This is where Coach Jeff Davidson must harp on Watson day after day leading up to the season to keep his form perfect.
One last note is that there have been comments from both staff and players, as well as John Elway, about the mentality Watson brings, and his leadership abilities. He seems to be great addition from a locker room stand point, which seems to fit the trend of recent offensive line additions Denver has made.
The biggest question mark with Watson is health and availability. He has never played through an entire NFL season and has only started 17 games over the course of his career, many of which he didn’t finish.
One interesting thing to note is that Watson specifically called out Denver’s strength staff as one of the reasons he came to Denver, saying they were the “best in the world” and what he needed to take the next step in his career.
He also alluded to the fact that this is only his 6th year total of football and it’s been a process learning about his body and how to take care of it. This isn’t an excuse for the health problems, but it does potentially highlight some reasons for them, especially early in his career. He really hadn’t spent a lot of time building up his NFL body before subjecting it to the rigors of a season. We’ll see if the staff, along with a fully healthy off-season can help keep him healthy.
Secondly, MHH touched on it a bit in their piece, but Watson struggles in pass protection on vertical sets (see a great breakdown of different kinds of pass blocking sets here). His kick is not smooth and he often gets off balance, which opens him up to bull rushers or inside moves.
Here is an example of that while working against Shane Ray in Week 17.
You can see in the freeze frame below how off balance Watson is here. If he were to get bull rushed by Shane, instead of Shane going inside, he would end up flat on his backside, much like his teammate Donald Penn did on the left side.
Watson looks like an upgrade compared to the pass blocking we saw last year, but that isn’t saying much. He’ll need to be more consistent in his pass sets to avoid getting thrown into the quarterback’s lap.
“With Leary and [T Menelik]Watson on the right side, that’s two big men. Along with [TE] Virgil [Green] as a blocking tight end, that’s going to be formidable.” - Vance Joseph
“He’s a big guy. Big guy who moves well. He’s strong and a smart football player. He’s a good teammate. I like playing against him.” - Derek Wolfe
“Our front office guys always do an incredible job of putting a team together. We have a great team. We’ve got great offensive linemen. They go find these guys and they make it happen. Watson is going to be really good. [T] Ty [Sambrailo] is going to be healthy this season. He was our left tackle two years ago. He’s going to do big things for us. Our offensive line looks a whole lot more stable.” - Von Miller
If Watson can stay healthy, he’s your right tackle for 2017 and looks to be an upgrade over what Denver has trotted out at the position for the last two years. If he can make it through a season and shows promise, he could potentially be Denver’s answer at right tackle.
If neither of those things happen, it will be another long season for Denver at the right tackle position.