When you think of New Orleans and its offense, Drew Brees and his plethora of targets come to mind. However, this offseason we were forced to see one other important cog leave the Saints when Jermon Bushrod left for Chicago. The last time the Saints lost Brees’ most important protector, it was Bushrod who stepped up and shouldered the important burden. Now, we have to find a replacement yet again and this time we are less sure of the options left.
Charles Brown, one time considered a first round-talent at left tackle, leaves the coaches worried, especially considering his injury history. Jason Smith, a former second-overall selection in the draft, has paved the way for successful running plays but he leaves something to be desired in pass protection. Both options have potential for growth into the position but, in case they don’t work out, there are many great options in the draft. While the top three tackles are projected to be taken in most mock drafts by the time the Saints turn comes around, Menelik Watson, a tackle with serious potential at both tackle positions, will most certainly be available.
Watson, native to Manchester, England, has a story that tugs at the heartstrings. One of five children of a single mother, times were hard in a city that is not the safest to grow up in. After being offered a basketball scholarship and redshirting for a year, he discovered an interest in football. Two seasons later, one at Saddleback College and the next season at FSU, he is one of the most talented and physically gifted athletes in the 2013 NFL draft.
At 6-5 and 310 lbs, Watson is a juggernaut at tackle. He played primarily at right tackle but has the potential and physical tools to move to the left side. Mike Mayock, a highly respected draft analyst at NFL Network, had this to say about Watson:
"“He is an absolute natural left tackle from a physical skill set. He’s got great feet. He’s a natural pass protector. He’s raw as can be, but the rawness shouldn’t scare teams away. I don’t think he’s that far away from being able to step in and play left tackle in the NFL.”"
(Read more about Watson’s backstory and Mike Mayock’s thoughts here: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/nfl/news/20130405/2013-nfl-draft-menelik-watson/)
Watson’s rawness is both a good and bad thing. Bad, because first round prospects are expected to start early in their careers. Watson will need to learn a lot about pass protection, run blocking, and defensive movements in order to get a chance to start (however, his coaches did remark on how fast he learned pass protections in college). His rawness is good because there is not as many bad habits that line coaches will have to change. He can be molded to fit to a scheme and focus solely on doing his job well. One of the exciting aspects about his game is that his ability to get to the second level. His straight-line speed allows him to block defenders even 20+ yards down the field.
Some of his flaws include being “highly inconsistent off the snap. Is just as often the last off the ball as he is the first. Consistently allows his hands to slip outside of his opponents numbers, which will draw flags from NFL officials for holding.” Also, when he does get to the second level, he doesn’t always know who to block. Because of how new he is to the sport, he can be late recognizing stunts and blitzes and doesn’t react to them well. Finally, he can “struggle with leverage, especially in short yardage situations and can get knocked backwards” (per CBS Sports).
(More analysis on Menelik Watson from CBS here: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1998194)
Bottom line, the Saints have some decisions to make at the tackle position. Zach Strief is a serviceable right tackle and Brown or Smith can either be left tackles or offer competition on the right side. Watson, though, has the potential for either position. While he is learning the left side, he can become the elite defender on the right side, creating space for the backs to run. He is athletic, versatile, and interesting, all great traits for a New Orleans team in need of some talent on the offensive line. The question is, do the Saints need to reach for a prospect that needs some work? Or are they content with what they have? Watson is certainly worth a look when it comes time for the Saints to pick.
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