“Big Bust” Becton Can Reset Narrative If Only He Can Stay On The Field For Jets
Mekhi Becton, the Jets first-round pick (No. 11 overall) in the 2020 NFL Draft, wore a t-shirt that read “Big Bust” at his press conference following Gang Green’s mandatory minicamp on Wednesday. In a follow-up over whether such negative chatter about his performance to date added fuel to his fire, the ginormous left (or right) tackle said, “I’m gonna make them eat their words.”
When it comes to consumption, better them than him. Becton’s weight, which he declined to reveal, has been an issue going back to his college days at Louisville and it is inferred that the excess poundage has placed strains on other parts of his body, which has resulted in extended absences during each of his first two pro seasons.
Jets Head Coach Robert Saleh, a workout fiend himself, is always effusive in his praise of players who come into camp in fantastic shape—quarterback Zach Wilson and wide receiver Denzel Mims were cited this week. When asked about Becton, Saleh said, “He’s fine.”
Hence, the concern that the player who goes by the Twitter handle “Big Ticket”, might be destined for the overflowing dustbin of high Jets draft picks who never panned out as hoped.
Becton played all of 48 snaps last season before injuring his knee during New York’s Week 1 loss at Carolina. Originally, the timetable for his return following surgery was expected to be about 4-to-8 weeks, but then when that period elapsed, Becton was no closer to rejoining his teammates. The weekly queries to Saleh became comical, like children pestering their parents only to be always told, “No”, until the organization succumbed to the inevitable and announced that Becton was done for the year prior to their Week 17 contest. Was the underlying cause of the shutdown Becton’s weight gain during his coalescence? The Jets wouldn’t say.
I’m not going to argue that Becton is the Jets’ most important offensive player going into the 2022 campaign—that would be Wilson, who must improve rather dramatically coming off a lousy rookie season. However, you can make a case that Becton is second, for we all saw the consequences last season when Gang Green’s o-line had leaks.
General Manager Joe Douglas was able to sneak Morgan Moses onto the roster prior to last season’s training camp as Becton insurance and the veteran performed adequately, earning a league-average grade from ProFootballFocus.com among tackles with at least 500 snaps. With Moses moving on to Baltimore this season as a free agent, Douglas has yet to fill that luxury—the Jets top tackle backups at the moment are rookie fourth-round pick Max Mitchell and veteran turnstiles Chuma Edoga and Conor McDermott.
As a former collegiate offensive lineman, Douglas made overhauling a horrendous unit his priority when he took over in 2019. This season, there is hope that the free agent acquisition of Pro Bowl guard Laken Tomlinson will solidify the group---he’ll join guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and center Connor McGovern in the interior while tackle George Fant is also a returning starter. PFF actually has the Jets at 13th in the league in their preseason offensive line rankings.
But that all depends on Becton.
He hasn’t been bad when healthy—PFF didn’t ding Becton with any sacks allowed in his one outing last season in a game where Wilson was battered. As a rookie, Becton started out like gangbusters, particularly in the run game where his pancakes delighted certain NFL analysts. He’d move people—large people—off the 11 X 11 video screen.
Of course, Becton hurt his shoulder during a Week 3 contest against Indianapolis and then the Jets (freaking Adam Gase) somehow thought it would be a good idea to have him suit up for a game versus Denver on a short week.
It wasn’t—Becton looked like he was playing with his arm in a sling and was pulled after 17 snaps. He wouldn’t return until Week 7 and then had an up-and-down finish to his season, some of that due to the recurring shoulder issue, though such inconsistency is common for a rookie at such a premium position. He allowed six sacks in his last 10 games, tied for the most among tackles, but PFF graded him out as the league’s 21st-best run-blocker among the 68 tackles with at least 300 snaps starting with Week 7.
Douglas desperately needs his first-ever first-rounder to flip the narrative this season. He assumed the risk by passing on Tristan Wirfs, who made First-Team All-Pro last season for Tampa Bay, to take a player he felt had higher upside due to Becton’s bizarre combination of size (6-foot 7, ? pounds) and athleticism.
To be fair, Wirfs has been playing right tackle, a less-stressful position, particularly when you’re blocking for a QB like Tom Brady who is artful at getting the ball out of his hand before the pass rush arrives. Still, Becton will have no excuses this season—he may even move over to the right side should Fant prove to be more reliable in their training camp competition.
Becton’s biggest issue is that he simply has yet to prove he can stay on the field for extended periods. He said on Wednesday that his knee will be fine to practice next month, but with him you always have to worry about every inch of his entire massive body going awry.