FOXBOROUGH — Not every undrafted free agent can honestly say they have a chance to contribute as a rookie. North Carolina State tight end Asa Watson can make that proclamation after being signed by the New England Patriots in the aftermath of the draft.
He will have a guiding light through the process: his older brother, former Patriots first-round pick Ben Watson. Needless to say, he's looking forward to the opportunity to follow in his brother's footsteps.
"I watched him play here a lot as a kid and as a high schooler," Asa said of Ben. "Coming to see him play was awesome, and then to actually put on the jersey and to come here now is almost surreal, because I'm kind of in his place, and I'm seeing his [weight room] records around and everything, so it's pretty nostalgic."
With experience in the Patriots' system, Ben offers a unique perspective for Asa in his transition to the NFL. Asa is already getting advice from his brother.
"He just said, you know, this is a new team, this is a new opportunity, and just make the best of it. Take every day for what it's worth, and give your best."
He added: "He told me it's a great place to go, that it will help me as a young player. It's a great opportunity, and I'm just really thankful that they would choose me to be a free agent. It's an awesome opportunity. I'm just grateful to be chosen."
At 6-foot-2 and 239 pounds, Asa is known as more of an H-back than a true in-line tight end. He has long speed to stretch the seam (4.69-second 40-yard dash at his pro day), and has potential in the passing game — though you may never guess it from his career-high 24 receptions, 282 yards, and one touchdown in 2012.
Those numbers become more impressive in context: he missed the entire 2011 season after having heart surgery. Watson has Wolff-Parkins-White Syndrome, causing episodes of rapid heart beats.
"It has been a struggle in the past," he said, "but I've really learned to look past it and not let it hinder me from getting the best out of the work. I think it's just something that we'll deal with day by day and take it as it comes, but it's definitely curable."
He added: "It's never bothered me in a game, and I can say that it's just a nuisance more than a hindrance."
The Patriots had been in contact with Watson throughout the pre-draft process, and went to Raleigh, N.C., for a private workout. A number of teams expressed interest in Watson after the draft, but the Patriots showed the most. Watson will be competing with fourth-year veteran tight end D.J. Williams for a roster spot.
That battle may come down to which player offers the most value on special teams, and Asa could benefit from experience on kickoff, punt, and field goal units. It's not just about what you do on the field in New England, though; it's about how you prepare off the field.
"The one thing I've learned in the past two days is that it's a lot more mental than physical," he said. "The preparation, the playbook, just learning the little things, and being able to produce them fast, but then also the conditioning is a huge part of it, too."