Though veteran offensive tackle Austin Howard was able to improve towards the latter part of last season, Menelik Watson, a second round pick in 2013 out of Florida State, will look to compete with Howard at right tackle. Yes, Watson will have more of an uphill battle in comparison to some of the other young guys on this list because of the level of play Howard put forth in 2015, but offensive line coach Mike Tice is still expected to start the best player available regardless of the two’s previous experience.
Though he has started in just 12 games in three years, Watson was awarded the starting job ahead of Howard during the preseason in 2015, but he unfortunately missed the entire 2015 season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon that he suffered in the Raiders’ third preseason game.
With Watson on IR, Howard took over at right tackle, and as a result, he finished the year as the 15th overall offensive tackle in the NFL, per PFF.com. With that being said, Howard’s grades were heavily inflated by his high grade in pass protection (85.2), but his poor run blocking grade (62.1) was the worst among the top 27 tackles in the league.
If Howard isn’t able to pick up the slack in the run game, Watson could earn a promotion earlier than most would expect, which, of course, is exactly what Watson wants.
“I’m just fighting to get back, man because I feel like I owe everybody here,” Watson said, via Paskal of Raiders.com. “When I was coming out of Florida State, nobody knew who I was. I was an English guy who played two years of football – two semesters of football. Reggie [McKenzie] took a big chance on me, and ever since I’ve been here, all I’ve wanted to do is pay him back, because there were 31 teams that passed on me, some twice.”