After 172 long days, the NFL is back.
Yes, it’s the Hall of Fame Game, a game not known for star power or the highest quality. Stars such as Trevor Lawrence and Derek Carr likely won’t play or have already been announced as out. The reality is it’s the first live NFL football since Super Bowl Sunday.
Despite the lack of star power, there are plenty of players and compelling storylines to pay attention to tonight. The game just needs to be viewed with a different lens.
USFL star Kyle Sloter
One of the best quarterbacks in the USFL this past year has found himself back in the NFL. After making first-team All-USFL, Sloter joins his seventh NFL franchise in the Jacksonville Jaguars. A player with a nice arm, Sloter has struggled with decision-making, especially under pressure. This is a good showcase game for Sloter since both Lawrence and backup CJ Bethard won’t play tonight, leaving everything to him and Jake Luton.
Josh McDaniels’ Debut
The long-time Bill Belichick assistant debuts on the sidelines for the Raiders just 10 years after getting fired from his first head coaching job with the Denver Broncos. The success McDaniels had on the offensive side of the football did not translate to success as a head coach.
At age 46, McDaniels decided he was ready for another shot after flirting with the Indianapolis Colts after the 2017 season.
While the major stars won’t play and only a shell of the playbook will be used, watching McDaniels run the team on the sidelines is worth monitoring. His demeanor on the sidelines and in the locker room was a point of contention during his Broncos’ tenure.
Las Vegas Offensive Line Depth
With Carr as the starting quarterback, having a solid offensive line is key. The Erhardt/Perkins system can help mask some of that due to the prioritizing of the quick passing game. Last season, the Raiders finished the season in the bottom half of the league in PFF grades in both pass blocking (22nd) and run blocking (29th).
The line didn’t change much this offseason. Both starting guards, Richie Incognito and Denzelle Good, from the beginning of last year have moved on. John Simpson, who stepped up last year due to injuries, is returning.
The only additions the Raiders made to the offensive line were third-round center/guard Dylan Parham and seventh-round tackle Thayer Munford. A new scheme may help the offensive line, but players like last year’s first-round Alex Leatherwood have to step up. That begins tonight.
Can K’Lavon Chaisson Make a Difference?
Chaisson has struggled since the Jaguars took him with their second first-rounder of the 2020 NFL Draft. Playing in 31 games during his first two seasons, Chaisson only has one sack and three tackles for loss in each. His new defensive coordinator comes from the Todd Bowles style of defense, which runs a 3-4 defense predicated on blitzing and pressure.
At LSU, Chaisson was an effective pass rusher. In his standout season of 2019, Chaisson accumulated 6.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Now, on his third defensive coordinator, Chaisson will be third on the depth chart behind Josh Allen and first-overall pick Travon Walker. Chaisson will have a chance to make an impact early tonight as the team’s likely starter.
The first year without a second first-round pick from the Rams due to the Jalen Ramsey trade, the Jaguars moved back into the first round anyways to grab Devin Lloyd. He and Chad Muma (3rd round selection) give the Jaguars a revamped linebacker room with the speed and athleticism to take on any challenge thrown at them. Expect to see a good amount of Muma tonight and possibly a series or two for Lloyd.
The depth of this class will be a lot of fun to watch. The first team center is rookie third-round pick, Luke Fortner, out of Kentucky. A physical player, Fortner will fit nicely next to Brandon Scherff and Tyler Shatley. Fortner will likely get some run, but next to Ben Bartch and Wes Martin.
Expect a large dose of running back Snoop Conner with the usual starters out. Conner is a powerful back with good athleticism. Don’t be shocked if Conner ends up playing a pivotal role for the Jaguars this season. Both of the running backs ahead of him have an injury history.
Tyler Forness contributed to this report.