Joe Douglas continued to beef up the Jets’ offensive line Thursday night, grabbing a tackle who could spend the next 10-plus years protecting Sam Darnold.
The general manager selected mammoth Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton with the 11th pick in the NFL Draft. It’s the first time the Jets chose an offensive lineman in the first round since 2006, when they took D’Brickashaw Ferguson fourth overall.
Becton is 6-7, 364 pounds, but he has tremendous feet and moves well. He impressed everyone at the NFL Combine by running a 5.1-second 40-yard dash. He has the versatility to play both tackle positions and is a dominant blocker in the running game. That should help Le’Veon Bell, who is looking for a bounce-back season.
“We’re so excited to add a guy with this size and athletic ability, a guy who we really feel can fortify our front for the long term,” Douglas said. “The first thing that jumps out is his size and the ease in his ability to move, his footwork, his hands and how easily he can move people off the ball.”
Assistant GM Rex Hogan said, “The guy moves people like furniture.”
This was Douglas’ first time running his own draft, and all along it was expected that the Jets would take a tackle if one of the top four remained on the board. Douglas said he promised Darnold’s parents last summer that he would make sure their son had a strong line in front of him and plenty of weapons at his disposal. He signed five offensive linemen in free agency and drafted another one.
“This just emphasizes our mission of providing protection and playmakers to our quarterback,” Douglas said. “This fortifies the protection aspect.”
Some red flags arose about Becton at the Combine, as he had a flagged drug test. Douglas said he and his staff did a “deep dive” on that. He said he spoke to Becton on Wednesday and had “an excellent conversation.” Douglas also said his staff spoke to people close to Becton and were satisfied with the answers.
“The number one thing that kept coming back was how good of a soul this young man has, how good of a heart this young man has,” Douglas said.
Becton’s explanation: “I made a mistake, a young mistake that won’t happen again. It was a one-time mistake that’s never going to happen again.’’
The Jets had their choice between Becton and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, who is a great athlete. But Becton is much bigger and might have a higher ceiling, especially as a left tackle.
“He certainly was the best player on our board when we took him,’’ Douglas said. “We love a lot of the physical traits he brings and the toughness traits that he brings to the team and the offensive line.”
Becton started 24 games at left tackle for Louisville the last two seasons. It’s too soon to know whether he will be able to play left tackle immediately, and the Jets signed George Fant to play that position, but Douglas has said all spots are open. At the very least, Becton should start at right tackle this season and eventually develop into a left tackle.
“He’s a big man that moves people off the ball in the run game and he’s a tough guy to get around at that tackle spot,” coach Adam Gase said. “He brings an edge to us, he brings nasty to our offensive line room. Any time you can add a guy like that, you’re fired up as a coaching staff.”
Becton agreed.“My demeanor is real nasty,” he said. “I like to see the man on the ground stay on the ground, so when I finish him, I like to get on top.”
The Jets will have a busy Day 2 of the draft on Friday with three picks in rounds two and three. It’s a safe bet that Douglas will draft a wide receiver with the No. 48 pick. The Jets also own picks No. 68, which they acquired from the Giants for Leonard Williams, and No. 79.
The offensive line makeover seems to be complete. Now it’s time for Douglas to get Darnold some weapons.