The Hall of Fame Game is the kickoff to NFL preseason games in Canton, Ohio, on Thursday. This game acts as an additional preseason game for the Broncos and Falcons this year, giving them five total preseason games to work with instead of the usual four for every other team.
Who Will Play
In the preseason, every team has a slightly different way of going about playing time due to what they think is best to get their players and roster ready for the season. The Hall of Fame Game is almost always used as an early roster evaluation game for the two teams involved. This is because they will likely still follow their normal preseason procedure in the following four games and use this game as simply more tape to have for roster cuts.
Since this game is a week earlier than every other preseason game, you are often too early into camp to really play anyone of relevance in this game besides a few scenarios. For reference, in last year’s Hall of Fame Game, the leading receivers were Javon Wims and Demarcus Ayers, rushing leaders of Gus Edwards and Benny Cunningham, and passing leaders of RGIII and Tyler Bray. If someone is on the field Thursday night, I would not expect them to be on the field for Week 1 barring elite camp play or injuries.
Lock’s First Live Snaps
Drew Lock is not slated to start the game for the Broncos, but I do expect him to see a good amount of time against what should be a third- and fourth-string defense later in the game. Lock needs to capitalize on every opportunity possible to try and stand out.
Denver does not project as an elite team anytime soon, and I would not be surprised to see them push for another elite QB in the draft soon if they aren’t sure that Lock is the guy for them after Flacco. This is Lock’s first chance to perform against a practice squad-level team, and it would be nice for him to go out there and start some early hype in Denver.
Falcons Running Backs
Dan Quinn recently said that there has been no separation between any of the RBs on the roster not named Freeman. This game is a week to see where he actually stands on this topic.
I would be surprised to see Ito Smith play more than a series as I expect him to be the main candidate to be the No. 2 back here. The real competition is for a roster spot between Kenjon Barner, Qadree Ollison, Tony Brooks-James, and Brian Hill.
Broncos Defensive Line
The Broncos defensive line added a few guys in the offseason, and it has presented some good competition for playing time and roster spots. I expect to see none of the starters in this game, which means that this could be the best possible time for guys to make a statement about why they deserve a roster spot.
Jeff Holland is someone that has reportedly struggled in camp and could soon find himself on the outside looking in without a big performance here. I expect Holland to get a solid chance to play well here and try to work his way back up the depth chart.
Guys like Kendall Sheffield, John Cominsky, Dre’Mont Jones, Juwann Winfree, and Justin Hollins are all players that were drafted in the middle rounds this season and are looking to stand out early and often in camp and in these games. None of these players will be expected to start right away, but they will all be watched carefully, and this is a perfect stage to start the hunt for a starting job.
All of these players should see some sort of time, and they should be more raw but also more talented than a lot of guys on the field in this game. I expect one or two to have a big game here in limited time and be the talk of the fanbase going back into camp as someone to watch out for moving forward.