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Missouri’s Terry Beckner Jr. takes bumpy journey from elite prep star to NFL draft sleeper

Terez Paylor
Senior NFL writer

COLUMBIA, Mo. — There is a player expected to be selected in the middle of Rounds 4 or 5 of the 2019 NFL draft who at one time was held in higher regard (by at least one publication) than six eventual first-round picks in last year’s draft — including Derwin JamesRoquan Smith and Josh Rosen — and the likely No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft (Kyler Murray).

However, when said player — University of Missouri defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. — was recently reminded of his high school days, back when Rivals.com ranked him 36th overall and ESPN had him as high as No. 2 in 2015, the 22-year-old just shrugged.

While the 6-foot-4, 296-pounder’s path to the NFL turned out to have a few more roadblocks than he would have expected, there’s still zero doubt for Beckner that his career remains right on schedule.

“Forget what everybody expects of me,” Beckner said. “I already know what I’ve got within myself.”

Missouri defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. expects to hear his named called at the NFL draft on either Day 2 or 3. (Getty Images)

‘His work habits, they’ve changed’

Beckner bounced back from a rough start at Missouri to become a two-year starter and team captain as a senior. Missouri’s defensive line coach Brick Haley leaned on him heavily in 2018.

“Terry is so much more mature than he was when he got here,” Haley said. “He’s a young man that has actually done the things we’ve asked him to do, and he’s grown to be a man — always on point and taking care of his business.”

Beckner started five of 10 games as a true freshman and did enough to be named a freshman All-American despite a season-ending right knee injury. But after he tore the ACL in his left knee in the middle of a less productive sophomore campaign — which came months after he was briefly suspended from the team for possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana (a misdemeanor) — there was uncertainty around Beckner when Haley was hired in December 2016.

“His work habits, they’ve changed [since then],” said Haley, who added that Beckner also used to have a tendency to miss class or show up late to functions.

Shortly after Haley was hired, the two sat down and had a heart-to-heart. Haley reminded Beckner that if he wanted to play in the NFL, he’d have to act like a pro first. He was a grown man, Haley told him, and it was time for Beckner to start acting like it. No one would be texting him or following him to class, there would be no hand-holding.

“And he said, ‘You know what coach? You’re right. That’s my responsibility and that’s what I need to do,’” Haley recalled. “And I watched him take the bull by the horns, and there was never another conversation after that situation where we were worried about Terry Beckner going to class or showing up late. He was always there, on time and doing what he was supposed to.”

Beckner blossomed late in Missouri career

Haley’s arrival coincided with Beckner’s junior season at Missouri, when he had the option of declaring for the NFL. And after his first two seasons at Mizzou didn’t go as planned, Beckner realized he was coming too close to not living up to his potential.

“You gotta mature at some point — you can’t be a kid forever,” Beckner said. “[As an upperclassman], you’re about to play grown men in the NFL so you might as well start acting like one before you get there. I had a lot more to give to the game than I was giving it.”

A refocused Beckner in 2017 recorded career highs in tackles (38), tackles for loss (11), sacks (seven) and quarterback pressures (five) in 13 starts. And when he decided to come back his senior year to improve his draft stock, he was so respected by his teammates that he was named a team captain.

During a strong senior campaign in which he logged 34 tackles (11½ for loss), 3½ sacks and five pressures in 13 starts, Haley says Beckner regularly held his defensive teammates accountable. A passionate speech during a d-line meeting the week of the Georgia game in September served as a turning point for his leadership.

“I was asking them questions about pre-snap indicators, who would be the keys, what would be the reads … and the answers weren’t rolling off their tongues fast enough,” Haley said. “[Terry says], ‘Hey coach, gimme a minute,’ and that’s when the fire and brimstone went off. He lit up the room. It was one of those moments where you knew we had a bell cow, that he wanted it to be his team and understand that we were gonna do things the right way.”

That’s the player Haley says NFL teams will get with Beckner, who ended up playing well that week in a losing effort. Beckner didn’t test great athletically during the predraft process, which won’t help his draft stock, but while NFL.com projects him to be a seventh-round pick, Beckner hopes to go anywhere in the middle rounds, ranging from Rounds 3-5.

“Maybe he didn’t [score high physically], but he shows up on tape over and over and over again, and that’s not by coincidence,” Haley said. “It’s because he’s talented enough to be able to do those things.”

Haley praised Beckner’s quick, violent hands and instincts, noting that whenever he comes back to the sideline, he has a great understanding of how the offense is trying to scheme up its blocking. The scouts, Haley says, are also impressed — Beckner showed flashes of dominance the past two seasons with quickness and power — and Haley believes his pupil’s game will jump a level in the NFL, when he can focus solely on football.

“I think he’ll become a totally different dude because he’ll take that next step with the training, taking care of his body, eating,” Haley said.

But the truth is, Beckner is confident he’ll take the next step because he doesn’t have a choice. He has dreamed of giving back to his rough-and-tumble hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois, by hosting football camps and starting a scholarship fund that could send disadvantaged kids to college. He knows the best way to do that is by killing it in the NFL and earning the big-money second contract after four seasons that all rookies strive for.

It’s the dream that all those other recruiting sites helped place in his heart four years ago when they ranked him so high, and it’s one that remains in his spirit, though the road has been bumpier than anyone could have predicted.

“I want my name to be remembered,” Beckner said. “That’s all I want.”

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