Prospects You Need To Know: Menelik Watson

When one door closed, Menelik Watson forced another door open. The big, hungry, athletic and potential-packed offensive tackle from England took a winding road from the soccer field to a Division I basketball scholarship to various points in between on his way to the first round.

If at first you don't succeed, try and try and try again.

That is the theme of Menelik Watson's sporting career.

Watson grew up in Manchester, England — home of merely the most popular sports team in the world, soccer's Manchester United. He grew up playing soccer and joining the hometown team. Instead, when he was 12, he suffered a serious ankle injury.

"There was a fracture and it messed with my foot plates. It was so bad the doctors almost amputated my foot," Watson said at the Scouting Combine.

With soccer out of the picture, Watson turned to basketball. Watson naturally was a big guy, and the years on the soccer pitch gave him unusually quick feet for a man of his size. He was spotted playing basketball at a tournament in Manchester by a coach running a full-time basketball academy in the Spanish Canary Islands. Watson went and eventually was offered a Division I scholarship at Marist.

After redshirting in 2009-10, Watson was a part-time starter in 2010-11. Role players for really bad programs — Marist finished 6-27 — aren't going to be drawing paychecks from the NBA, so it was on to Plan C.

"I always wanted to be a pro and play in the NBA," Watson said. "But I had to make a calculated decision and give it up. I had a daughter back in England and I had to find something."

One of Watson's teammates on the Marist basketball team, Rob Johnson, suggested Watson give football a try. Watson didn't know a thing about American football, other than watching Johnson play on his Xbox.

After considering boxing — he sparred a few times — Watson made the life-changing decision of playing football. The challenge — even for a big, athletic guy like Watson — is to get that opportunity with exactly zero snaps of film to show to recruiters.

"They all thought I was crazy," Watson said. "Then I found Saddleback (Junior College). Honestly, I didn't know anything about the game. But I had the mind-set and I just wanted to dedicate myself to football."

Watson showed up at Saddleback in Mission Viejo, Calif., and started off on the defensive line before switching to offensive tackle. When he tells you he knew absolutely nothing about the game, he's not exaggerating. Watson didn't know the rules, didn't know how to put on the equipment and didn't know how to play the game.

What Watson had in his favor is his size and athleticism, not to mention intelligence and a burning desire.

Watson was one of seven children raised by their mother. They had no money.

"There were times when I opened up the fridge and there was nothing in it," Watson said. "One time, I was starving and I was at the building where my mom was working. I mean, I was starving. All that was there was ketchup. Being as hungry as I was, I drank the ketchup. Needless to say, I don't like it anymore."

Three of his brothers, he said, had spent time in prison. And he had a daughter who meant the world to him.

"It was so tough," Watson said. "I had to persevere. It was rough on my mom and, under the circumstances, she did a good job. Most of it (the streets) was drugs, gangs and family in the hospital. I always wanted to do something positive and be a shining example. No matter where I came from, I can do something. So, I was big into school; not big into money."

At Saddleback, Watson got a crash course in the sport from Kyle Long. Long wasn't just a player. He's the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long and, like Watson, he's a potential first-round pick next month.

"Kyle basically told me that the quarterback is a basket and that I have to protect the basket," Watson said. "It's a basic principal, to protect the quarterback. I learned everything from there."

Before landing at Saddleback, nobody wanted Watson. After one season there, everybody wanted him — from Auburn to Oklahoma to Oregon and points in between. Watson chose Florida State. In his one season for the Seminoles, he started 12 games at right tackle and allowed just one sack for an offense that set a school record with 6,591 yards and 40 rushing touchdowns.

With just 20 games for his entire football career, it's a thin resume. But Watson's a big guy (6-5, 310) with footwork bred on the soccer field and basketball court. He's a good player now. How good could he be after one year? Two years? Three years?

"My best football is in front of me," Watson said. "I know that I have not even scratched the surface."


Scout.com's Jamie Newberg contributed to this story.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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