In the thralls of the oppressive August heat, NFL fans often look to one oasis for relief: rookie training camp reports. Fans from all 32 teams are chomping at the bit for any kind of sign that maybe their team has snagged themselves a future star. For the New York Jets, that hope has come in a rather large package.
Meet rookie Mekhi Becton. He’s 6’7″ and 370 lbs. He was the crown jewel of general manager Joe Douglas’ first draft class…the first round one offensive lineman the Jets have selected in nearly 15 years. He’s brimming with limitless potential, but was thought to be one of the more raw and unrefined prospects in the entire draft.
While it’s still very early, Mrs. Becton’s baby boy has had a promising start. He’s mostly held his own in team drills and earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. Even the typically stoic Adam Gase gushed about his work ethic and his ability to pick up the offense quickly.
Jets fans are rightfully excited about Becton’s future. However, in a sports market that often craves instant gratification, I fear that many fans may be expecting too much from the brobdingnagian (it’s a real word, look it up) rookie. More aptly, if you’re expecting Becton to be good as a rookie, you’ll likely be disappointed.
And I don’t mean that in a negative way…quite the opposite. It’s important that Jets fans truly understand the context of how difficult it is to be a raw rookie in the NFL so that they can adjust their expectations accordingly and evaluate his rookie season fairly. In summation: Mekhi Becton probably won’t be good in 2020, and believe it or not, that’s okay! I’m going to explain why.
1. The steep learning curve for offensive tackles
Over the years, the NFL has come to expect more and more out their rookie players. Prospects are coming out of college more prepared than ever to transition to the pro game. However, one position in particular has proven to be an exception: offensive tackle.
The arc of the average NFL OT’s development is longer and steeper than with other positions. They get off to bad starts, and it’s often a longer wait before they reach their full potential. Consider the following data compiled by my colleague Michael Nania.
As you can see, very few tackles selected high in the draft go on to have good rookie seasons. Furthermore, players such as Trent Williams and D’Brickashaw Ferguson were downright horrible as rookies before eventually becoming elite caliber tackles. Heck…even Kolton Miller, ranked dead last on this list, progressed to being an average starter during his sophomore season last year.
Still don’t believe me? Just take a look around the league… every other member of the high profile “big four” rookie tackles are struggling mightily in camp.
These include rookies like Andrew Thomas and Jedrick Wills, who were vaunted during the pre-draft process for being two of the most “pro-ready” tackles in the entire class. This isn’t at all to say that those players are bad or that they’re behind the curve…I’m merely making the point that it’s normal for even blue-chip, polished rookie OTs to take some lumps early in their career.
As a rookie, and a particularly raw one at that, it would be perfectly understandable if Mekhi Becton were to have a bad or even horrible rookie year as he adjusts to the NFL.
2. Level of competition
Compounding this already steep learning curve is the level of competition Becton will face this year. Here is a preliminary list of EDGE rushers he is slated to match up against in 2020:
I mean…yikes. A murderers row of established elites and ascending stars. It’s a near impossible ask for any tackle to withstand this kind of onslaught, let alone a 21 year old rookie who’s still learning where he’s supposed to put his hands. He’s going to be learning on the fly while competing against the absolute best in the world. It would be like if you were learning English for the first time, and then midway through your English 101 class, you were asked to win a rap battle against Pusha T.
3. Less preparation time
Which brings me to the last point: there’s far less time to refine his game before the season starts. Becton was a prospect who many experts believed would benefit the most from NFL coaching. Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he’ll get even less of that crucial preparation time than the typical rookie tackle. It’s sure to hamper him early in the year, as he’ll be forced to learn things on the fly he’d ordinarily be learning on the practice field.
In conclusion: is it likely that Becton steps on to the field and realizes his elite potential right away? No. But does that mean Jets fans should be discouraged if Becton struggles mightily as a rookie? Not even a little bit.
When he has a rookie moment, remember everything he has going against him this year. Remember that a bad rookie year in no way precludes him from eventually being elite in the years to come. Instead, be satisfied with the brief flashes of dominance or stretches of solid play that Becton’s immense talent is sure to provide this year.