When Reggie McKenzie drafted Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson in the second round of the 2013 draft, it was a surprise.
Watson, from England, had played just 13 games at the major college level after transferring from a community college, and was considered by many to be a “raw” talent with good athletic skills.
At the time, however, Watson – who had played basketball at Marist – was confident he could make it in the NFL.
“I don’t consider myself raw,” he told reporters at the time he was drafted. “There’s been a lot of talk, ‘he’s raw,’ and all this stuff. I don’t consider myself raw. I just think the way I do things is a lot different than the … traditional. Obviously there’s still a lot of techniques I need to learn.”
Now, as Watson prepares to enter his fourth season in the NFL, he’s still considered somewhat of a raw talent. He played just five games his rookie season, 12 games in 2014 and lost the entire season in 2015 because of an injury before the regular season – after it appeared he had won the starting job at right tackle.
For Watson, 2016 is a make-or-break year. He’ll be in the final year of his rookie contract and will need to give the Raiders a reason to keep him around. His base salary in 2016 is still a very affordable one, at just over $1 million, with $1.5 million counted against the salary cap (including bonuses).
Watson is scheduled to compete against Austin Howard for the starting job a right tackle. It’s also possible the Raiders will use one of their top picks on an offensive tackle to sharpen the competition even further.
To be ready for the battle ahead, Watson has been on an intense offseason conditioning program. In an interview with the team’s website this week, Watson said he’s been using boxing workouts and yoga – along with rehab and standard strength and conditioning work – and biking 3 miles to and from the Raiders’ facility and his home each day.
Watson says, “I’m trying to be better every year.”
One of his motivations is to justify the faith McKenzie put into his future on that draft day, and the support he’s received over the past year from the coaching staff after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon.
“I’m just fighting to get back, man, because I feel like I owe everybody here,” he told Eddie Paskal, who writes for Raiders.com. He listed McKenzie, owner Mark Davis, head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive line coach Mike Tice as people who have believed in him – even though he has yet to prove he was worth a second-round pick.
“That’s what my motivation is right now,” he said. “I want to prove (it) to them, and myself.”