When Mekhi Becton went down with a serious knee injury in the season opener, Jets fans feared the worst. It looked like Becton might be ruled out for the rest of the season, depriving the Jets of their most talented lineman and perhaps sinking the unit towards the bottom of the rankings. With a developing-on-the-job rookie quarterback Zach Wilson to protect, this could have been a disaster.
As it turns out, almost nothing has gone the way most people expected as the sequence of events that take us from that injury to where we are now has been extremely unpredictable.
First of all, much to everyone’s relief, it was revealed that the Jets only expected Becton to be out for a month or so, although that wouldn’t be the end of the story.
Next, the Jets’ offensive line - with George Fant taking over at left tackle - settled down very quickly and began to function really well as a unit.
As the expected time and date of Becton’s return came and went, Robert Saleh kept saying that Becton was a few weeks away but insisted that as soon as he was ready he’d be right back into the starting line-up. However, Fant continued to hold up well so the expected urgency of the situation never materialized.
This afforded the Jets the luxury of not bringing Becton back before he was 100 percent and with the season winding down, it’s now possible he won’t get back on the field at all this year.
This has caused the media to raise the alarm about Becton’s recovery taking longer than expected, including some - largely unsubstantiated - concerns about his weight, conditioning and work ethic.
However, at about the same time, the media eventually caught onto the fact that Fant was quietly having a very good season. In fact, he’s arguably not been quite as good since midseason, perhaps because he’s been a bit banged up - and he was set to miss the Miami game at the time of writing.
Then you have Wilson’s development, which - despite the fact he’s for the most part been well protected all year - hasn’t progressed quite as smoothly as was hoped.
It’s still not certain that Becton won’t play again this year and Saleh has reiterated how he would like to see him get back on the field. It would be good to at least get him some reps alongside Alijah Vera-Tucker, with whom he’s never played a full game in regular season or preseason action. In fact, Becton didn’t even complete a full practice with Vera-Tucker until right before the opener.
There’s been some speculation that the Jets might not want to move Fant out of the left tackle position once Becton returns but that seems like an overreaction. Becton is the left tackle of the future and Fant has plenty of experience of playing on the right, so they’ll presumably revert to the opening day configuration, as Saleh was resolute would be the case when asked about it before the week five game in London.
One strange trend that’s emerging among the fanbase and some media members is that they almost seem to have forgotten just how impressive Becton was in 2021.
As a run blocker, Becton showcased dominance all season even though he was only scratching the surface in terms of refining his technique so he could maximize leverage advantages and stay on blocks to the end of the play.
This peaked with a late-season game against the Raiders where Becton’s run blocking helped make Ty Johnson look like a young Curtis Martin. Johnson racked up over 100 yards as the Jets kept running the same play to the left side and Becton constantly drove his man laterally and out of the play to create a big running lane.
Becton is also obviously a massive asset on short yardage conversions with his size and strength at the point of attack making him a good option to run behind.
We can also reconsider Becton’s performance as a pass blocker, where he surrendered a surprisingly low pressure rate and held his own against some great pass rushers. His best game had to be the one against the Chargers, where he didn’t give up a single pressure and controlled Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa well all day.
As good as Fant has been, it’s a lot rarer to see a left tackle that can handle matchups like these while also being a difference maker in the running game at just 21 years of age, so we shouldn’t forget what a blue-chip prospect they have on their hands.
Ironically, if Becton had just suffered an injury which we knew to be season-ending at the time, the fanbase might be more excited for his return next season rather than losing some faith in him as the hoped-for return has been slow to materialize.
The unfortunate thing, though, is that Becton has unlimited potential and the Jets have had great stability and continuity on the offensive line this season. Those would have been perfect conditions under which he could have developed his game, much as the likes of Fant and Connor McGovern have transformed themselves into players who fans wanted to upgrade from into reliable established veteran leaders.
It’s a shame that this lost year for Becton would otherwise have been a great opportunity to establish himself as a difference maker and potentially one of the league’s elite left tackles. Also, who knows how well his incredible athleticism would have translated to the new offensive system? Now he’ll need to go again next year and there’s no guarantee that same stability will be there in 2022.
The important thing for Becton, though, is that he stays healthy and he should be determined to prove to those who’ve been doubting him that he can do this and provide the Jets with dominance when he’s back.
You can expect Joe Douglas to make further moves during the offseason to shore up the offensive depth. Hopefully this time, though, it’s so Becton has a talented group to play alongside rather than just ending up being one that is equipped to survive his absence.