All along, as he rehabbed from his second major knee injury in the past two years, the big guy was hiding in plain sight during the season at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
Mehki Becton, all 6-7 of him, was a largely invisible presence to outsiders as his teammates plowed through the 2022 NFL season. He said he has every intention of making his presence felt -- as he did as a rookie in 2020 -- as he embarks on his pivotal fourth season with the Green & White.
"I've been working every day," Becton told reporters last week. "I've been up here every day, been doing extra work in the weight room. Every day doing extra cardio."
Asked, exactly, how much weight he's lost recently, he said: "A lot. A lot of weight. As you can see, I look really skinny right now."
At the NFL Scouting Combine the winter before he was the third offensive lineman selected, No. 11 overall by the Jets, Becton weighed 363. His weight has fluctuated during his three professional years, but the already trimmer Becton has a target to lose an addition 15-to-20 pounds.
"Just knowing I need to lose it so my knee can be healthy and sustain a full season," he said.
Still only 23 years old, Becton said that he's embraced his new responsibility as a father -- his infant son moved with him from the Dallas area and both will stay in North Jersey, mostly, during the offseason.
"I'm going to be here," he said. "There's no excuse now that my son is here. It's fun. He's starting to say 'Da-da.' It's really cool."
After joining the Jets out of Louisville and playing in 14 games as a rookie, Becton went down with a knee injury in the 2021 season opener at Carolina. Then last summer, as the Jets thought they had put together an imposing offensive line -- Becton, second-year man Alijah Vera-Tucker bossing the right side, the signing in free agency of LG Laken Tomlinson to partner with T George Fant on the left side, and the return of solid center Connor McGovern-- the Big Ticket, in training camp, sustained a season-ending injury to the same right knee.
The best laid plans fell victim to a raft of injuries. The Jets started nine different combinations as AVT was lost for the season with a triceps injury at Denver in Week 7, rookie Max Mitchell (blood clot) was ruled out as Fant returned from injury. Another reinforcement, veteran tackle Duane Brown, fought his way through injury, but is 37 and could be facing shoulder surgery. Looking ahead to 2023, McGovern and Fant are free agents, and Douglas and Saleh know there's work to be done shoring up an offensive line that appeared to be deep coming out of camp.
In all, the Jets started three left tackles, four right tackles and four guards this past season, and both the running and passing games suffered because of the injuries, the comings and the goings.
"This is a big offseason for Mekhi, and I think he understands that," Douglas said. "I think, certainly, our offensive line has missed what he can do for the last two seasons. This is a big offseason for him. Obviously, it's going to be important that he's able to hit the ground running, be in the best shape that he can be, and that's going to make for a healthy 2023 for him."
For his part, Becton knows he has a lot to prove -- to his teammates and to Jets fans -- after missing 33 of the last 34 games and playing in 15 of a possible 50 games so far in his NFL career. He's heard the jibes and from the doubters, and is humbled, but still confident in his mountain of ability.
"It's definitely taken a toll on me mentally," he said. He added: "I've been looking forward to what I'm about to do and what I'm going to do. I'm not going to be down on myself. I know what I can do. It's that simple."
Asked again about the outside noise, Becton said: "People can say whatever they want. Yeah, it's definitely been humbling. It's kind of hard when you get injured. It's not your fault why you got injured, everybody knows that, but some people continue to point the blame at you saying it's your fault why you got hurt, so it's definitely humbling, for sure."
As he commits himself to getting back on the field, Becton said he will participate in OTAs this season (he did not last year) and watch his weight to ease the pressure on his knees.
Can he continue to lose weight ... and keep it off?
"I'm very motivated, I just want to get out there on the field," he said. "That's it. This is what I do.
"Y'all have seen me do it before, so why can't I do it again?"