When Neville Hewitt shot into the gap to try to make a play in practice on Monday he probably expected to run into an offensive lineman – but not a freight train.
His close encounter with rookie Mekhi Becton … well, let’s just say it did not go well.
“Yeah, he caught me,” Hewitt said later. “I was pretty impressed. He’s a pretty big fellow.”
Yes. Yes he is.
“Big” is most definitely the word the Jets are using this summer as they describe their sense of awe at their rookie left tackle. He’s listed at 6-foot-7, 363 pounds, which of course is massive enough. But on a Zoom call with the media on Tuesday morning, Becton said he actually currently weighs more than 370 pounds.
“He’s just different, man," said veteran running back Frank Gore. “He's one of the biggest guys out there.”
“That’s a big man protecting our quarterback,” added Jets coach Adam Gase. “And I’m glad he’s here.”
OK, so size does matter. But that’s not the only reason the Jets took Becton with the 11th overall pick in the NFL Draft (although they’re pretty clear that the size part is awesome!). There’s so much more they seem to like about Becton. His athleticism is off the charts, which is what so many scouts said about the Louisville product before the draft – especially after he ran a 5.1 in the 40-yard dash. And despite a COVID-shortened offseason, the 21-year-old has seemed to adjust to the NFL pretty quickly, too.
“He looks like he’s been doing this for a minute,” Gase said. “It looks very natural for him. Any time a rookie gets plugged into that starting offensive line, we all know it’s a lot. He looks comfortable to me. He’s not making mistakes. He’s doing a really good job.”
“Comfortable” is a good way to describe Becton, who admitted he didn’t always feel that way. He was always a big kid – even when he was “little,” he said – and he grew up feeling “definitely insecure” about his size, to the point where he wouldn’t take his shirt off when going into a pool. The more he grew, though, the more he realized it was an asset.
Now he’s fine when people’s jaws drop the first time they stand at his side. And he’s OK with them talking about it all they want.
“I embrace it now,” he said. “I like hearing that I’m big.”
What he really likes, though, is hearing that he’s good.
“You rarely see a 370-pound guy move the way he does,” Gase said. “It’s hard to explain what it feels like when you’re standing next to him. When you get next to him, that’s when you realize how big this guy is. When other players are talking about his size, his length, his strength, that’s when you know it’s real. You know it’s not something that a coach or scout is just talking about just because a height, weight, speed, measurable-type thing.
“And he applies it to the field. It’s difficult for guys to figure out how to rush him in the pass game and then in the run game it’s hard to move them back. You don’t see much penetration. That line flattens out pretty fast. And you know the longer that he goes through this training camp, the better he is going to get.”
How good can he get? Gase compared him to Laremy Tunsil, the Pro Bowl left tackle who just signed a three-year, $66 million deal with the Houston Texans. And though it’s early, it’s doubtful any of his new teammates would disagree. They’re clearly aware of how high Becton’s ceiling is.
“He was talking to me out there and saying, 'I'm going to get you four yards' and I like that,” Gore said. “He can move. I watched him when he got drafted, just watching him play basketball and watching him slam guys into the ground. Even out here, moving pretty well. To be that big, that's crazy."
"He made himself known out there and what he's capable of doing," said Jets linebacker Blake Cashman, another one of Becton’s victims in camp. “He's a great player. He's going to be somebody that's going to play a long time in this league and has more potential to grow. (On Monday) in practice, I had to come down and take him on one-on-one.
“Let's just say that didn't go well for me.”
But it definitely went well for the “big” Becton, who smiled at the memories of his first NFL camp “pancakes.” He barely reacted on the field to the hit on Hewitt, just calmly jogging towards the sidelines. But inside … well, it was clear Hewitt felt that hit he took from Becton. But there’s no doubt Becton felt it, too.
“It felt good,” Becton said. “That’s what I would say. It felt really good. I’ve been waiting for that for a while.”