New York Jets left tackle Mekhi Becton exceeded expectations in his rookie season.
Coming out of Louisville, Becton was cast as a “boom or bust” prospect due to his incredible athleticism and size, combined with his relative inexperience. His tape was jaw-dropping at its best, with Becton causally driving defenders into the bench.
Yet, to some, that power was a double-edged sword. Becton was mainly able to win with his athletic talent alone, which led to questions about how he would handle the jump in competition.
Drafted 11th overall by New York, Becton quickly proved he could be just as dominant in the NFL as he was in the ACC. Starting all 14 games he played, he was consistent and reliable in pass protection, all while bullying defenders in the run game just like he did in college.
Despite Becton’s stellar play, the Jets rarely featured him in their play design. The 2020 season was littered with instances of Becton driving his man in the dirt while Frank Gore got tackled for a minimal gain on the other side.
Becton’s a star, but the Jets couldn’t let him shine a year ago—for a myriad of reasons.
Under new play-caller Mike LaFleur, however, Becton is ready to move from another cog in the system to the straw that stirs the drink.
The Trent Williams Effect
In San Francisco, LaFleur helped Kyle Shanahan build an offense around his own behemoth left tackle, former All-Pro Trent Williams.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Williams was acquired in a trade with Washington during the 2020 NFL draft. Williams then immediately returned to his pre-holdout form under Kyle Shanahan, finishing 2020 with his seventh Pro Bowl.
Shanahan used Williams as his own personal bulldozer to create lanes for his offense. Whether he was drive-blocking ends into the dirt or getting out in space to take on linebackers, Williams was the focal point of the blocking scheme. He worked wonders as Shanahan’s favorite snowplow.
The 49ers’ two best rushing performances in 2020 came in Week 7 against the New England Patriots and Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals. In those two games combined, the 49ers ran for 409 yards and averaged six yards per carry—even with starting running back Raheem Mostert missing both games.
Williams played a vital role in that success, routinely creating space for the Niners’ backs. San Francisco picked up 57% of its rushing yards on runs to the left side across the two games and New England and Arizona.
Under LaFleur, the Jets will highlight their own monster truck in Becton, while using Williams’s tape as a guide.
Week 7 at New England
The 49ers decimated the Patriots in Week 7, rushing for 197 yards, four touchdowns and nine first downs on 37 carries, despite a less than stellar day from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
A majority of the yards gained came by way of Trent Williams’s in-space blocking, something he did on this toss play from late in the first half.
Williams lines up at left tackle and wears #71.
Get off the tracks when the train’s coming through
The 49ers line up in an I-formation tighter-split twins stack look, while the Pats are in a 3-4 front with safety Adrian Phillips (#21) down in the box (weak-side backer opposite the tight end). The Niners call crack toss with receiver Deebo Samuel (#19) cracking edge player Anfernee Jennings (#58).
Williams (#71), as the play-side tackle, gets out to the second level quickly. With Jennings taken care of by the crack-block, Williams gets to Phillips immediately. A pancake is served, as expected since it’s a safety, and a lane opens.
Running back JaMycal Hasty (#38) gets the edge and bursts down the sideline for a gain of 20.
Earlier in the game, we saw what Williams is capable of as a blocker in the screen game.
The Niners show a 2×2 gun set from 11 personnel, with tight end George Kittle (#85) split out wide. The Pats are in a nickel while running a three-deep zone with pressure. Kittle motions into a tight slot pre-snap, and Samuel comes across on jet motion at the snap.
Shanahan’s goal is to fool the linebackers here. Ja’Whaun Bentley (#51) comes on a designed blitz, so he has no choice in the matter. Chase Winovich (#50) is the key here. Much like today’s NFL, isolating specific defenders is the goal for many offensive play-callers. Here, he targets the strong-side edge (Winovich), who picks up Samuel at first, but hesitates as he reads run, carries Samuel for one more step, then finally rushes Garoppolo.
With the other linebackers distracted, Mike linebacker Anfernee Jennings is the only pursuit defender left to take out, and Williams does just that. Williams fires off the ball and uses his length to get first contact on Jennings. With Jennings in his grasp, Williams cranks his hips inside to wall Jennings off and take him out of the play. With no defenders to worry about, Samuel catches the ball in stride and runs for a gain of 23 yards.
The 49ers bludgeoned the Patriots over and over in Week 7. Despite rushing for nearly 200 yards, their longest rush of the day was the 20-yard pitch to Hasty – a mark of their consistency. San Francisco averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 37 attempts.
This wasn’t a shootout, it was a boxing match, and the Patriots couldn’t last two rounds against Williams and the Niners.
Week 16 at Arizona
The 49ers’ Week 16 game at Arizona is a great example of Kyle Shanahan featuring Trent Williams when the chips were down.
Both Mostert and Garoppolo were out, and the Cardinals were looking to sneak into the playoffs with a late division win at home. With his roster depleted, Shanahan leaned on Williams to pave the way, and it ended in a season-best 227 yards on the ground.
Shoring up the toss
It’s the 49ers’ second drive of the game, and they are facing a first-and-10 situation at the Cardinals’ 35-yard line. They come out in an I-formation with Kittle on the right before motioning him left. Arizona responds with a single-high look from their base 3-4 Under set, before having to play it in an “over” look after Kittle’s motion.
San Francisco calls strong toss with Williams as the focus again with Kyle Juszczyk leading the way. Williams is tasked with getting up to the SAM linebacker immediately, De‘Vondre Campbell (#59), and keeping him from the edge. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk (#44) motions slightly outside just before the snap. This gives Juszczyk a head start, but this also tips off Campbell to the toss.
Campbell widens two steps before the snap and ends up with outside leverage on Williams, who is trying to get outside and cut Campbell off. Despite the leverage disadvantage, Williams quickly gets to Campbell, locks him in place, and torques him inside away from the play.
Unfortunately, Kittle’s block is shed by linebacker Devon Kennard (#42), who tackles running back Jeff Wilson (#30) for a gain of four. If Kittle were able to finish, Wilson had a clear lane down the sideline off of Williams’s outside hip.
While this was only a short gain, it was a warning shot at the Cardinals’ defense. The ball will follow Trent Williams on the ground; stop if you can.
Clearing space from SF to NJ
Later in the first half, the 49ers call a one-back power from a 12 personnel shotgun set. Take note of No. 82 on the left side, as he bluffs on the edge only to lead to the second level. This is designed to allow the pulling guard to kick out on that very same edge player. Shanahan loves to mix up his counters and powers with many variations, to go along with a new-school feel (with jet motion usually utilized).
The Cards come out in single-high deep behind a 3-4 look.
Receiver Brandon Aiyuk (#11) comes across on jet motion right before the snap, forcing the linebackers to hesitate. With the backers preoccupied, Williams can focus on the defensive line.
Williams and left guard Laken Tomlinson (#75) double-team defensive end Leki Fotu (#95) and Williams drives him across two gaps after Tomlinson climbs to the MIKE, Jordan Hicks (#58).
With the frontside collapsed in by Williams, and the linebackers frozen by the jet motion, Wilson has a canyon to run through behind the pulling guard and explodes through it for eight yards. If not for Tomlinson failing to seal the MIKE, this eight-yard gain could’ve been a touchdown.
It’s the start of the second half, and the 49ers are trying to hold on to a slim one-point lead. San Fran shows an 11 personnel shotgun set before motioning tight end Ross Dwelley (#82) into the backfield. The Cardinals once again answer with a 3-4 Under, as they would for most of the rest of the game to their own demise. But once again, San Fran motions them into an over look.
The 49ers run either an inside zone with the dressing of a zone read, or a zone read that sees the quarterback give it up. With Dwelley providing the appearance of a sift (split zone), EDGE player Haason Reddick (#43) is in a bind.
From this position, Dwelley could block Reddick on a split zone, leak out to block for quarterback C.J. Beathard (#3) on a read-option, or catch a pass in the flat. Reddick has to make a choice, and he makes the wrong one. The zone-read action from Beathard keeps Reddick backside, and away from Wilson who actually has the ball.
Williams, once again, is tasked with blocking the end, who this time is Zach Allen (#94). Williams has the crucial block of the play, creating space across three gaps and opening the cutback lane for Wilson. Wilson presses frontside before sticking a foot in the ground and bursting upfield for a gain of 15 yards.
Shanahan set up the pins with his play design and Williams knocked them down.
The next two clips are identical plays during the fourth quarter when the 49ers were trying to seal the win; power runs from 21 personnel.
With nine minutes left in the fourth, San Francisco has the ball on Arizona’s 35-yard line with a two-point lead after the Cardinals failed a fourth-down attempt. The 49ers come out in an I formation with tighter wide receiver splits to both sides, and the Cards are in the same 3-4 Under they’ve been gashed in for most of the game.
San Fran calls a power run to start the drive, hoping to kill the clock and avoid a potential turnover. Williams’ job is to get up to the weak-side linebacker, Campbell, and seal the inside lane for Wilson. Williams fires off the ball and gets up to Campbell before stopping him cold and opening the gap. The rest of the linemen do their jobs well, and Wilson has a gaping hole.
Wilson hits the hole at full speed, cutting behind Williams and gaining eight yards before any defender even touches him. Now, past the second level, Wilson has one man to beat, safety Budda Baker (#32). Baker goes low, Wilson runs through the tackle, and it’s off to the races. Wilson is barely pushed out of bounds at the one-yard line, but the Niners would score on their next play, giving them a two-score lead.
There are only four minutes left, and the 49ers have the ball at their own 20-yard line after intercepting quarterback Kyler Murray in the end zone. The Niners run the same play as before, Power Left from I-form Close. The Cardinals are still in their 3-4 but this time they’ve dropped Baker into the box as a third off-ball linebacker and have also moved the strong-side defensive end into a 4i look.
This wrinkle from the Cards changes the blocking assignments of the run. Before, Williams took on the weak-side linebacker, as he was the closest defender to his gap, the left B-gap. With Baker in the box, the end, Allen, moves to a 4i (as previously mentioned). With Allen covering the B-gap, he is now Williams’s responsibility. Like he had been all game, Williams easily washes Allen out of the gap on the down-block, taking him out of the play.
At this point, the Cards know what’s coming and swarm the B-gap. Kittle eventually gets to the MIKE linebacker, but Hicks has already filled the lane. Baker follows suit and drives downhill ready to lay a hit. The defense isn’t in terrible shape, but one mistake changes everything.
Corner Lorenzo Burns (#33) fails to keep contain outside, instead, running into the pileup and knocking out one of his own teammates, Baker. With the inside clogged, Wilson spots the empty lane outside and explodes downfield for a 25-yard gain, helping to ice the victory.
I-formation power runs are referred to as “God’s play” for a reason. They’re effective and have been since the sport was invented over a hundred years ago. With the game on the line, on the road, against a division opponent, Kyle Shanahan turned to “God’s play,” and Trent Williams parted the Red Sea.
Trent Williams was flat-out dominant with the 49ers in 2020, and it’s easy to envision Mekhi Becton following in his footsteps.
Becton’s immense potential will be unlocked as his brute strength and movement skills will be featured in ways they never were his rookie year. Adam Gase rarely used Becton as the primary blocker. Instead, Becton would mainly handle the backside of run plays.
While Becton regularly would punish his man and take him out of the play, the front-side linemen would often lose their matchups and the play would be shut down despite Becton’s effort.
Becton will no longer be an afterthought on the backside – he’ll be the main attraction.
The Jets used the 2021 draft to rejuvenate their offense. Joe Douglas added a new quarterback, a new running back, a new receiver, and a new guard. However, Douglas’s first-ever pick as general manager, Mekhi Becton, might play the biggest role in turning things around.
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