The season opener in Buffalo may not have gone to plan for the Jets, but one bright spot was first round tackle Mekhi Becton, who showcased his potential in his eagerly anticipated NFL debut. It was by no means a flawless performance, but the rookie looked like he belonged and gave a glimpse into what the Jets hope he can bring to the position for many years to come.
Let’s break down some of the key plays in Becton’s performance:
1st quarter, 1:21 to go – 1st and 10 at the Jets’ 35, Bills leading 14-0
While the Jets’ offense was slow off the mark, Becton made a steady start with the Jets giving him a few straightforward assignments including on Le’Veon Bell’s first carry where he was tasked with blowing up a defensive back on the edge.
His first real mistake came late in the first quarter, where he was matched up with a 10th-year veteran in Mario Addison. The 33-year-old got an immediate inside leverage advantage with a quick first step and Becton was unable to prevent him from stuffing the run for a loss in the hole.
Becton seemed to take a false step or two as he was getting his read coming off the ball. These are the kind of technical tweaks he needs that will make a huge difference to his effectiveness.
2nd quarter, 6:48 to go – 1st and 15 at the Jets’ 16, Bills leading 21-0
This play saw Becton called for a hold for what was his only penalty of the day. Prior to this, Becton had impressed with his ability to use his strength to redirect rushers upfield or re-anchor on the few occasions where his man got half a step or a leverage advantage on him.
He kept his feet moving and tried to do the same here, but Jerry Hughes smartly got low to the ground as Becton tried to push him upfield and ended up being taken to the ground. As a rookie, that’s an automatic flag, although Dion Dawkins got away with doing a similar thing to Jordan Willis on the next Bills possession.
Sam Darnold was sacked on the play by Trent Murphy, but this was because Murphy bull rushed tight end Chris Herndon into Darnold’s lap.
2nd quarter, 1:27 to go – 1st and 10 at the Jets’ 12, Bills leading 21-0
Darnold’s connection with Bell late in the first half was notable because it was a good example of something Becton handled unexpectedly well all day. Becton and the Jets were anticipating the Bills testing him throwing some stunts and other exotic blitz packages his way. However, the Jets generally handled these quite well as a unit with Becton playing his part.
On this play, the end crashes down and Becton passes him off to Alex Lewis, before coming off that assignment to recover to the outside and pick up the tackle stunting around the edge.
Becton’s willingness and determination to learn and improve has been praised throughout camp by coaches and teammates alike. It’s encouraging to see him put that hard work to good effect on gameday.
3rd quarter, 10:56 to go – 3rd and 3 at the Jets’ 35, Bills leading 21-3
This was the only play where Becton gave up a sack, although CBS announcer James Lofton described this as “more of a coverage sack” and Darnold would have been able to step up had Lewis not also been driven into his lap.
On the play, Addison showed good technique by getting a solid strike at Becton’s chest to rock him back and the working his hand techniques to get Becton’s hands off him. To his credit, Becton battled to stay in the play and bought Darnold a split-second extra by forcing Addison to go the long way around.
Becton cannot afford to give up a sack every week but did a creditable job of limiting clean pressure against some talented veterans.
3rd quarter, 1:33 to go – 2nd and 2 at the Jets’ 32, Bills leading 21-10
In the second half, Becton started to get some good traction in the running game. On an earlier play, he had driven his man off the line well, but failed to stay on the block and his man was able to get back in on the tackle. However, he made the adjustment well and had some impressive and effective run blocks in the second half.
On this play, Becton got his pad level low and drove Hughes three or four yards off the line so that Frank Gore could easily pick up the first down. If the Jets had scored on that drive, they would have been right back in the game but unfortunately Herndon’s fumble ended their threat.
Becton is the first rookie tackle in the Jets’ opening day starting line-up since D’Brickashaw Ferguson, their last first round pick at that position some 14 years ago. Ferguson, who went on to become a three-time Pro Bowler, was initially a polished pass protector but needed to bulk up to be effective in the running game. Becton faces a different set of challenges because he is raw technically and lacks experience of blocking in an NFL protection scheme.
Growing pains and a learning curve are therefore to be expected, although Becton is such an athletic and physical specimen that we can also anticipate some flashy moments where he can dominate his opponents. Perhaps what was most impressive about Becton in his first game was how well he managed to limit any negatives, though. He never really looked lost or got schooled by a veteran player all day. It is going to be interesting to track his progress.