When Mekhi Becton signed up for the football team at Highland Springs High School in Virginia, he picked wide receiver and tight end as his positions. He was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 215 pounds.
“At 13 years old, when someone is that big, you anticipate them growing even more,” Loren Johnson, Becton’s high school coach, said in a telephone interview on Monday, four days after Becton became the Jets’ top draft pick. “I had to inform him, ‘Son, if you continue to grow, you’ll grow out of that position in about two weeks.’”
“I can remember the smile on his face and how funny it was to everyone in the room,” Johnson added. “But that was the type of athlete that he thought that he was, and the type of person he was in terms of confidence.”
Becton was immediately switched to the offensive line. He grew to be 6-7 and 364 pounds and one of the best offensive tackles in college football. It was his size that first caught the attention of the Jets, who started scouting him when he was an underclassman at the University of Louisville and on Thursday picked him 11th over all in the N.F.L. draft.
The Jets became ever more interested in Becton when they saw his footwork, his wingspan and his ability to move, despite being so big. His speed was another factor: Becton ran a 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds at the scouting combine. Other elite offensive-tackle prospects ran faster, but they were at least 40 pounds lighter.
Also at the combine, Becton failed a drug test, which he has called “a young mistake that won’t happen again.” The substance in the failed test has not been made public.
“It certainly raises a flag when anything like that comes up,” General Manager Joe Douglas said on a conference call Thursday after drafting Becton. “When a case like that comes up, we’re going to take a deep dive on exactly why that happened.”
Becton’s 40-yard dash time led to a long talk with Frank Pollack, the Jets’ offensive line coach, who was looking for help on a line that allowed 52 sacks last season, the fourth most in the N.F.L.
“The guy moves people like furniture,” Rex Hogan, the Jets’ assistant general manager, said in a conference call after Becton was selected. “He’s a big, powerful man. His size and length, it can be tough to get around him.”
Becton said he was always the biggest child in his class, much like his father, a former offensive lineman.
On the football field, Johnson said, Becton seemed to think he would be able to rely solely on his size, but quickly realized that would not be the case. Becton focused on his technique, most critically learning where to place his hands, Johnson said, and also spent hours in the weight room.
During games, Becton often ran over to Johnson and put his hand on his shoulder, asking him to call a running play so he could show off his skills. “It was like having a bear paw on your shoulder,” Johnson said.
Becton’s keen footwork, Johnson said, can be credited to playing high school basketball. He could dunk with ease and routinely sent opponents scrambling. During one high school game, Becton was being guarded by an opponent who was just over 6 feet tall. All it took was one side step and a flick of his arm to send the defender tumbling to the ground.
“It was almost like he was just swatting a fly,” Johnson said. “That in itself showed Mekhi’s strength.”
At Louisville, Becton started 10 games his freshman year, protecting Lamar Jackson, a mobile quarterback who frequently left the pocket. Two years later, Jackson would win the N.F.L.’s Most Valuable Player Award as the Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback.
Becton started 13 games his sophomore season and emerged as a potential top draft pick during his junior season, making substantial improvements that he credited to a new coaching staff at Louisville.
In the first game of the season, Becton lined up against Julian Okwara, a defensive end from Notre Dame who was drafted by Detroit in the third round. Becton held Okwara to one tackle. A few weeks later, against Clemson, the toughest opponent of the season for Louisville, Becton held his own against a defense with a tendency to blitz.
Becton was named the Atlantic Coast Conference best blocker of the season, despite not being on the preseason all-A.C.C. watch list.
Staying this big hasn’t always been easy for Becton. In college, he said, he had trouble maintaining his weight. He calculated that he would burn 1,200 calories in a workout. He wasn’t eating enough food to replenish what he lost, causing his weight to fluctuate.
“I figured out I needed to eat more,” he said, adding that his ideal playing weight is 350 to 355 pounds.
Becton has experience playing both left and right tackle. He is especially dominant against the pass rush, which should benefit quarterback Sam Darnold, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the draft two years ago.
It is still unclear when the two will start working together, as the league is shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the Jets are expecting a lot from their newest offensive lineman.
“He’s a tough guy to get around in that tackle spot,” Jets Coach Adam Gase said of Becton. “For us, he brings an edge. He brings nasty to our offensive line.”