It has been a bad weekend for British NFL stars, as two of the UK’s brightest hopes both suffer major setbacks. Manchester born Menelik Watson suffered a potentially season-ending injury, while former olympian Lawrence Okoye failed to make the San Francisco 49ers 75-man roster, a casualty of their first round of cuts.
It seems that it is once again one step forward, and two back for British players in the NFL, after a disastrous weekend for Britain’s contingent of players.
Menelik Watson, a second-round draft pick in 2013 has been one of the most successful British born players in the NFL today, cementing his place on the Raiders’ roster. Watson had a great preseason, and was competing for a regular first team starting spot on Oakland’s vastly improved offensive line. This training camp form had earned him the chance to take first team reps during Prime Time, on Sunday night against the Arizona Cardinals.
Watson was looking good—really good—at right tackle early in the game, and appeared to have the starting right tackle position locked up. That was, until he went down with an ankle injury. Watson was visibly shaken up, and appeared to be in a great deal of pain as he left the field.
Later, he confirmed everyone’s worst fears via twitter:
Ruptured Achilles’ tendon… I Will be back stronger than ever that’s a promise. Main thing is supporting the team right now. #RaiderNation
— Menelik Watson (@MenelikWatson) August 31, 2015
A ruptured Achilles tendon typically has a 6 month recovery time, meaning Watson will miss the entire NFL season. This was confirmed when the Raiders placed Watson on IR during the first round of roster moves, required to get the team below the 75-man limit now in place.
Unfortunately for Watson, history has not been kind to players suffering this kind of injury. Around 35% of players who suffer a ruptured Achilles Tendon, according to some studies, never return to the league, and of those that do, most suffer from significantly reduced performance and playing time. For a player on the fringes of the first-team roster to begin with, Watson faces an uphill struggle to return to starting form, but if anyone is able to do so, it is a player with the determination Watson has already shown. Watson only had two seasons playing football prior to joining the NFL, and still managed to start around a dozen games as a rookie and sophomore.
For Lawrence Okoye, however, things are even tougher.
Okoye, a former Olympic discus thrower, and british record holder in the event, announced his plans to join the NFL in 2013, in spite of never having played gridiron football at any level. After signing with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent, his first season was cut short by injury.
He returned in 2014, and spent the season on the 49ers practice squad. After some promising outings in training camp, and during preseason games, many believed that Okoye was finally ready to make the jump, especially with defensively minded head coach Jim Tomsula taking the reigns in the bay.
Okoye finally appeared to be grasping what playing defensive end in the NFL was all about, and many analysts believed he had done enough to earn a spot on the 49ers 53 man roster as a backup and special teams contributor.
Tomsula, however, waived Okoye during the first round of cuts. He stated that his intention in doing so was actually to give Okoye a better chance of playing in the NFL.
“Lawrence hasn’t played a lot of football,” Tomsula told a press conference announcing the cuts.
“When you have a guy in that situation, it gives him a better opportunity [to find a team]. I will say what he’s done in two-and-a-half years is remarkable.”
Okoye has yet to be claimed by any other team, and if he clears waivers, will likely return to the 49ers practice squad. Nonetheless, it is a huge blow for a player who was pushing for playing time in the NFL after just 2 and a half years playing the sport.