The Oakland Raiders made several huge strides in upgrading their roster this offseason. The first of which was a strong draft that added several potential players, especially potential All-Pros in corner back D.J. Hayden and offensive tackle Menelik Watson. These two are not without controversy, as they have seemed to drive a divide between the experts and fan with many in both groups taking opposing sides. Many think the Raiders got players that could end up being the best of their position group in their draft, while many others think the Raiders got blinded by the impressive workout numbers for both players and selected both earlier than they should have.
The questions surrounding D.J. Hayden were his health and his relative lack of experience. Hayden’s health was the biggest question mark leading up to the draft. He suffered a frightening injury that almost took his life, as a freak collision caused a tear in his inferior vena cava. The injury would cause many experts to drop Hayden from a top 50 fifty player to a player found at the end of the draft or not drafted at all. Then an astounding performance at Houston’s pro-day put him back into the mind of scouts and many reevaluated their drop in his rankings.
The other question was his lack of experience. Hayden was a junior college transfer to Houston prior to the 2011 season. He only played in 20 games during his collegiate career, but he missed the final third of his senior season after the injury. There is also the question of the level of his competition, as Houston is a member of Conference USA and he was not facing BCS level competition.
Menelik Watson is a player with eye-popping measurable and jaw dropping athleticism for a man his size, but he is extremely raw when it comes to game of football. Watson is 6’5” and 310 pounds with great upper body strength and great mobility and range. He has all the measurable that scouts look for in elite tackles, but that is not what caused many to question his selection.
The question mark surrounding Watson is his complete lack of experience in the game of football itself. Watson came to the United States from England in search of a basketball scholarship. After a year of playing at Marist College, Watson left in pursuit of a career in boxing. Shortly after that, he decided to try American football and enrolled at Saddlebrook Junior College. After just one season, he signed with the Florida State Seminoles, where he started in his first year and declared himself for the NFL Draft after.
Watson only has two years of playing American football and only one year at the division one level. He probably would have been better served by playing his senior season at Florida State. He will be forced to learn the nuances and technical aspects of the sport on the fly at the NFL level.
Both players were signed right before the start of training camp, which relived many fans that saw a holdout being a damper on their development. It would not be all good news, as shortly after, the Raiders placed both players on the Non-Football Injury list. Hayden was not a surprise, as he was returning from a surgery in May to remove scar tissue that had built up in his abdomen.
The NFI list designation for Watson was a lot more surprising, as he has not been seen to suffer from any previous injuries. As of the latest reports, the injury that Watson is suffering from has not been identified and it remains a mystery as to why he was placed on the list.
Since both players were placed on the list, they have gone in separate directions. Hayden has been an active participant in nearly all of the training camp sessions, but he has been in a non-contact jersey for the entirety. Watson has not seen the field at all and remains on the NFI list. He has been seen on the sidelines riding a stationary bike at times, but again there is no indication as to why he is not participating in camp. It is leaving fans wondering what type of impact will it have on their development during the season.
Hayden should not be affected that much from a football standpoint. The only thing is how is he going to handle that first hit. He has not shied away from wanting to hit, as he has been witnessed multiple time trying to get in on tackling drills or trying to get away from wearing the red jersey. Each time, head coach Dennis Allen has caught Hayden and either removed him from the drill or made him put back on the jersey. So it looks like Hayden may be mentally ready to get back into the full flow of things, which is a great sign.
He has also been impressive in the sessions of camp that he has been allowed to participate in. He has looked impressive in coverage and could very well end up winning a starting job by the end of the preseason.
Meanwhile, Watson is watching his chance to even really see the field slip away with each passing day of training camp that he does not participate in. Watson was the player, who most needed the experience of a training camp. With only two years of football under his belt, the learning opportunities that he is missing will set back his development. He needed to get in and experience going against NFL caliber players, which would provide him with valuable teaching moments that the coaches could show him.
The Raiders’ top two rookies both will see their seasons go in different ways during training camp. Hayden seems to be close to getting past his injuries and they should not have an effect on his season. While, Watson could see his mystery injury have a major impact on his season. If Watson misses any of the preseason games, then you can expect him to most likely not see playing time until late in the season at best. Training camp is a valuable training tool, as it allows coaches to teach players in a controlled environment compared to during live games.
So, look for Hayden to be an impact player at times during this season and answer the questions that critics had at his selection in the draft. While, Watson will have those questions linger over his head until he can show that he can improve and progress at the NFL level.