ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Oakland Raiders passed up on some high-profile players on the second day of the NFL draft Friday to take Florida State offensive lineman Menelik Watson in the second round and Connecticut outside linebacker Sio Moore with their third-round pick.
With many prominent skill position players available like quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib, running back Eddie Lacy and receiver Keenan Allen, general manager Reggie McKenzie stuck to his draft board to add an offensive lineman who has played only two years of football in his life and another linebacker.
"Both the guys we were able to add today we feel are really good football players and really stand for the things we're looking for and stand for things I've been talking about and Reggie's been talking about, guys that really love football, guys that want to work, guys that are going to put the team first," coach Dennis Allen said. "So felt really good about the two picks we added today."
The Raiders added Watson with the pick they acquired the previous day from Miami when they moved back nine spots in the opening round. Oakland took cornerback D.J. Hayden 12th overall on Thursday after trading down from No. 3.
Watson grew up in England and grew up playing soccer, basketball and boxed. He played one season of basketball at Marist College and was set to give that up and go back to England and look for work when he decided to give football a chance.
"When I got on the field I just found a love and passion for the physicality of it and just the history of the sport, too," he said.
Watson played eight games at Saddleback Junior College in 2011. He teamed on the offensive line with Chicago first-round pick Kyle Long, the son of former Raiders Hall of Famer Howie Long.
He said the game was "baffling" at first because he didn't know the rules but he started feeling comfortable by his third game. He played well enough at Saddlebrook to get a chance to step up in competition at Florida State.
He played 13 games last season for the Seminoles where was credited with allowing only one sack for an offense that set a school record for total yardage in the season.
"This guy played at Florida State at a very high level of competition," Allen said. "He played extremely well. We like his athleticism, we like the fact that he's been a boxer, he's been a basketball player. He's got excellent feet, and he's got great punch, and we think that's a good addition."
Watson dismissed criticisms that he is raw because of his lack of experience.
"Obviously there's still a lot of techniques I need to learn," he said. "But the great thing about football is that, more so than other sports, you never really learn everything. There's still things you can improve on, especially when you start aging, there's other things you can learn to your advantage. But I definitely do know there's a lot of technical things I need to polish up, per se, not necessarily consider it being raw."
This marks the second straight season the Raiders drafted a player from England, taking defensive end Jack Crawford in the fifth round last year. Watson and Crawford played basketball against each other growing up in England.
The Raiders struggled to run the ball last year under former coordinator Greg Knapp's zone-blocking scheme. Knapp was fired after the season and new coordinator Greg Olson is implementing a power-based system.
Oakland has Jared Veldheer returning as starting left tackle and brought back last year's right tackle Khalif Barnes on a one-year contract and also signed Alex Barron to a deal in free agency. Watson will get a chance to compete in training camp with his most likely spots being right tackle or possibly guard.
"He's the kind of player we're looking for," Raiders director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales said. "He's athletic, he's tough, he's committed, he's strong. He'll come in and he'll compete whether it's at left tackle or right tackle or guard, wherever it may be. He'll help us build this thing the way we want to get it built.
The Raiders have overhauled the linebacker position this offseason, releasing former first-round pick Rolando McClain and watching outside linebacker Philip Wheeler leave for Miami in free agency.
McKenzie signed Nick Roach, Kaluka Maiava and Kevin Burnett in free agency. He has now added Moore to that group, joining last year's fourth-round pick Miles Burris, who started 15 games as a rookie.
Moore had 72 tackles and eight sacks last season at UConn. He has 16 sacks, four interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in 41 career college games. Moore had 44 tackles for loss in his college career, was also flexible enough to drop into coverage and exudes confidence.
"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 (upset)," he said. "The Oakland Raiders got the best linebacker in the draft. I don't care who went before."
The Raiders have one pick in the fourth round, three in the sixth and one in the seventh on the final day of the draft Saturday.