When Mekhi Becton signed up for the football team at Highland Springs High School in Virginia, he chose the wide receiver and the tight end as his positions. He was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 215 pounds.
“At 13, when someone is so fat, you expect them to grow even more,” Loren Johnson, Becton’s high school coach, said in a telephone interview Monday, four days after Becton became the Jets’s first choice. “I had to inform him,‘ Son, if you keep growing, you will be out of this position in about two weeks. ‘ “
“I remember the smile on his face and how funny it was for everyone in the room,” added Johnson. “But he was the type of athlete he thought he was, and the type of person he was in terms of confidence. “
Becton immediately entered the offensive line. He became 6-7 and 364 pounds and one of the best tackles in college football. It was his size that caught the eye of the Jets, who began to spot him as an underclass at the University of Louisville and picked him Thursday 11th in the overall standings of the N.F.L. Draft copy.
The Jets became more and more interested in Becton when they saw his footwork, his wingspan and his ability to move, despite their size. His speed was another factor: Becton ran a 40-yard rush in 5.1 seconds on the combine. Other offensive elite hopefuls ran faster, but were at least 40 pounds lighter.
Still on the combine, Becton failed a drug test, which he called “a young mistake that will never happen again.” The substance of the failed test has not been made public.
“It certainly raises a flag when something like this happens,” general manager Joe Douglas said in a conference call Thursday after writing Becton. “When a case like this arises, we will go deeper into exactly why it happened. “
Becton’s 40-yard time led to a long talk with Jets’ offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who was looking for help on a line that allowed 52 bags last season, the fourth-largest the NFL
“The guy moves people like furniture,” said Rex Hogan, deputy general manager of the Jets during a conference call after Becton was selected. “He is a tall and powerful man. Its size and length can make it difficult to get around. “
Becton said he was still the tallest child in his class, as was his father, a former offensive lineman.
On the football field, said Johnson, Becton seemed to think he would be able to rely only on his size, but quickly realized that this would not be the case. Becton focused on his technique, learning the most critical where to place his hands, said Johnson, and also spent hours in the weight room.
During games, Becton often ran to Johnson and put his hand on his shoulder, asking him to call a running game so he could show off his skills. “It was like having a bear paw on your shoulder,” said Johnson.
Becton’s passionate footwork, said Johnson, can be attributed to playing high school basketball. He could dive with ease and regularly send opponents to jostle. During a high school match, Becton was guarded by an opponent who was just over 6 feet tall. It only took a side step and an arm stroke to send the defender to the ground.
“It was almost like hitting a fly,” said Johnson. “This in itself showed the strength of Mekhi. “
In Louisville, Becton started 10 games in his first year, protecting Lamar Jackson, a moving quarter who often left the pocket. Two years later, Jackson would win the N.F.L. as quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens.
Becton started 13 games in his second season and emerged as a potential first draft pick during his junior season, making substantial improvements which he credited to new coaching staff at Louisville.
In the first game of the season, Becton lined up against Julian Okwara, a Notre Dame defenseman who was drafted by Detroit in the third round. Becton held Okwara to a tackle. A few weeks later, against Clemson, Louisville’s toughest opponent of the season, Becton stood up to a defense with a tendency to blitz.
Becton was named the best blocker for the Atlantic Coast Conference of the season, although he did not participate in the all-A.C.C preseason. watch list.
Staying that big has not always been easy for Becton. In college, he says, he was struggling to maintain his weight. He calculated that he would burn 1,200 calories during a workout. He was not eating enough food to replenish what he had lost, causing his weight to fluctuate.
“I understood that I had to eat more,” he said, adding that his ideal playing weight was 350 to 355 pounds.
Becton has experience in left and right tackle. He is particularly dominant against the pass rush, which should benefit quarterback Sam Darnold, who was the number three pick in the draft two years ago.
It is still unclear when the two will start working together, as the league is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the Jets expect a lot from their new offensive lineman.
“He’s a tough guy to get around in this place,” said Jets coach Adam Gase of Becton. “For us, it brings an advantage. It brings nasty to our offensive line. ”