There are some memories that just pop up into my head for no apparent reason. In particular, when I watch tape to do these draft breakdowns, I often look at these young prospects and see older players who came before them. The problem is I can’t always place who exactly is their on-the-field doppelgänger.
But sometimes I can.
Such was the case when I was watching Louisville left tackle Mekhi Becton’s tape. I am not sure what the correct word to use when discussing a man who is 6’7 and over 360 pounds, but I’m going to go with “massive” for the moment, although that doesn’t quite do his stature justice. But believe me, if his size was Becton’s only redeeming quality, I probably wouldn’t be writing this breakdown about him.
It is almost impossible to describe some of the things Becton did on the field. I could try to stuff this column full of plays instead, and it still wouldn’t be enough to give you an accurate feel for how he dominated other young men as if he were that kid in little league everybody was sure had a fake birth certificate.
As I sat there watching with my mouth open in amazement, I kept thinking I don’t remember ever seeing an offensive lineman completely obliterate his opposition on such a regular basis since I have been doing these breakdowns. Mind you, these were four games against top-notch competition — including the Clemson Tigers, who were the defending national champions at the time and made it back to the title game later in the season.
Notice I am not talking about him being the ”best” offensive lineman I have ever seen. Becton still has some work to do technique-wise, which I will get to later. But for now, I’m talking about physically driving DI football players off the ball and down the field in every single one of those games.
This guy was consistently knocking edge players off the ball with just his initial punch — with arms over 35.5 inches long. And then it finally came to me who Becton reminded me of, at least based on gossip: Hall of Fame left tackle Willie Roaf.
As far as I can recall, I never actually watched Roaf’s Louisiana Tech tape. However, the game he had against a stacked Alabama team that ended up winning the national championship in 1992 became a thing of legend. That Crimson Tide team had two standout defensive linemen in John Copeland and Eric Curry (whom I eventually played with in Tampa). I actually googled to make sure I wasn’t remembering this wrong, and sure enough there are a bunch of articles about how Roaf kicked both of their asses that day on the way to vaulting himself up draft boards.
To put into context, just ask yourself when has any other offensive lineman ever had a game so memorable that people could recall it almost 30 years later?
Becton didn’t quite have a game quite that outstanding of the four I watched. But what I saw him do, the way cats went flying backward on contact, was also the stuff people will be remembering for years down the road.
What Becton does well: Drive defenders back
I had to come up with a new stat for Becton in the middle of watching his tape. He was so good at getting up on the second level, I started counting how many times he was able to drive linebackers far enough downfield that they ended up off the screen.
That number doesn’t even include the plays where he didn’t quite get them off the screen. Believe me, there were plenty of those as well!
What was funny to me about Becton’s tape is half the time he looked like Baby Huey out there, just dumping guys on the ground as if he didn’t know his own strength. He was mashing dudes out simply because he could, but he rarely even looked like he was playing with an edge. And I say that because I did see him appear to get visibly pissed off a couple of times, and the blocks that followed … let’s just say there was a marked difference in those pancakes versus the rest of them.
To be clear, I’m not saying that as a knock on Becton. He is plenty dominant enough without having to go overboard with it, which is impressive in its own right. I just want to note that if he ever did start playing with a little more of a salty demeanor regularly, they might have to end up scraping his opponent up off the field.
Where Becton can improve: Pass protection
Having said all that, I also have to acknowledge that if a team plans on playing Becton at tackle, he has some real issues as a pass protector right now. He wasn’t “bad” at it, mostly because he’s so big it looked like he intimidated some of the guys he was going against into not really making moves.
However, when the edge rushers didn’t fear him and tried to beat him with some kind of rush around the edge, for instance, Becton would bail out of his back pedal in a way that allowed him to keep them from getting to the edge. That would also leave him vulnerable to an inside counter move.
Losing on an inside counter after trying to catch up to a speed rusher happened a few too many times for me to believe it won’t be an issue for him in the NFL. And the truth is trying to carry his weight on a frame that tall might fundamentally make it hard for him to react to those counter moves no matter how much better he gets technique-wise. If he can’t fix it, then it’s very likely Becton will either have to lose some weight or have to move inside.
If he can keep most, if not all, of his strength and power at a little lower weight, I don’t see a downside to him dropping a few pounds anyway. At the same time, losing weight isn’t a guarantee his lateral change of direction will improve enough for him to be trusted at left tackle, either.
On another note, for as big and as strong as Becton is, he got pushed back on a few power rushes more than I expected to see. That, too, is probably a technique issue, but it’s something worth keeping in mind. He definitely looks a lot more comfortable coming forward to run block than he does going back to pass set. He also doesn’t switch up his punch, which makes it easy to time. That is another reason why I would have concerns about throwing him out there at left tackle right off the bat.
Personally, I’d put Becton on that Larry Allen program right off the bat anyway and stick him inside at guard, at least initially. That would help to hide some of his pass protection issues and also allow him to be more aggressive at the line of scrimmage. I’m having visions of Becton jump-setting a three-technique on play action and pancaking him.
You would be too if you had already seen his tape.
I would have more confidence in Becton playing right away inside as well because you can always have the center slide his way a little more than usual if he needs help in pass protection. Teams don’t seem to send chip blocks to help offensive tackles nearly as much as they used to (or need to), though. Becton is also as wide as a damn tractor trailer, so just trying to get around him on the interior would be one hell of a chore for most interior pass rushers, whether his technique improved dramatically or not.
I didn’t get to see Becton pull at all in four games, but considering the athleticism, quickness, and speed he showed blocking downfield on screens, I have every confidence pulling wouldn’t be a problem for him at all. In fact, I could see him crushing fools on all manner of counter plays like it’s nothing.
I did see Becton whiff a few times when he had to run a little too far down the field before he made contact, but I’m not sure some smaller offensive linemen could’ve made those blocks either. His incredible day at the combine and his tape says he is more than athletic enough to do anything you could want a guard to do. It’s just a matter of sticking him in there and letting him take his lumps for a while until he gets it. I don’t think it will take too long.
Once Becton gets used to the speed of the game, and if his technique improves enough, then maybe I stick him out at left or right tackle and see what he can do. Or maybe you find out he is such an asset inside that you just keep him there and let him tee off and destroy people at guard for the next decade. Think a bigger, stronger, not quite as technically sound Quenton Nelson. I don’t know if Becton will ever be the pass protector Nelson is, but I’d love to see him try.
Becton’s NFL future: Pro Bowler, at least
He is far from a finished product, but the talent Becton showed on tape is enough to see he can be a special player with a little bit of work. If you have a coaching staff that can’t get him to play up to a Pro Bowl level at least, you probably just need a new coaching staff, or at minimum a new offensive line coach.
I mean, even when his technique isn’t great, Becton can still rock bottom his guy to the ground. If you aren’t willing to take a chance on a guy like that, then you and I are not the same.
I’m not usually one to get goofy over potential, but Becton is such a singular prospect that it’s hard not to become enamored with who he could become. I don’t know that he will end up wearing a gold jacket like Roaf ultimately did, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.
All things being equal, he looks like a top-10 pick in the draft would look to me, and I’m not even sure he would last that long. We will see if NFL teams agree whenever the draft rolls around.
For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Becton play against Notre Dame, Boston College, Clemson, and Kentucky.