We won’t see Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson during the NFL Hall of Fame Game. However, that shouldn’t dissuade us from tuning in to see some of the battles brewing further down the depth chart at multiple position groups on both rosters.
2023 Hall of Fame Game Players To Watch
There is no shortage of storylines heading into the exhibition. The Jets are a media darling, being tagged with “Hard Knocks” cameras and the largest media market in the country for what looks to be like a season they’re going all-in. On the opposite sideline, the Browns are looking to finally get over the hump of disappointment they always seem to find themselves tumbling down.
Jets OT Mekhi Becton
The Jets’ former first-round pick, who had a standout rookie campaign, has been a shell of his former self since. Injuries, a position switch, weight issues, and more injuries have shelved what appeared to be a solid career on the blindside after Year 1. Now, the fourth-year player finds himself on the depth chart not only behind Duane Brown, the veteran currently on the PUP list, but also Billy Turner and Max Mitchell.
While the “best shape of their lives” season is upon us, Becton appears to have slimmed down despite having surgically repaired his knee last season stemming from an early-August injury. Nobody has more to prove this preseason than Becton, who is no longer looking for a significant second contract, but a spot in the league in general.
Browns DT Siaki Ika
It’s probably safe to say most of us are confused about this one. The Baylor Bears defensive tackle was a true nose at the college level. Ika was one of college football’s best space-eaters, and the Browns absolutely needed that ability in the offseason. However, Jim Schwartz’s draft call to the nose tackle claimed he’d be stamping down the pedal and playing vertically. But that’s not his skill set.
Defensive tackle is already a sneaky-difficult transition from the college to the NFL level, particularly for the houses playing in the A gap. It’s a far more reactionary position than it’s given credit for, and Ika will be learning a completely different way of playing it at the highest level of competition. It could take some time.
Jets RB Michael Carter
We should see a version of Michael Carter at the same level or better than what we got from him as a rookie. As a North Carolina Tarheel, the back absolutely flourished running outside and wide-zone concepts. That is exactly what we’ll see from Nathaniel Hackett’s offense, and it should bode well for the third-year RB.
But there is extra motivation here as well. Dalvin Cook took a trip to New York, and although there have been conflicting reports about how well the meeting went, it’s hard to argue that Cook wouldn’t be an outstanding fit in that offense.
Browns WR Elijah Moore
If the Browns’ offensive attack wants to take a step up in efficiency this season, one of Elijah Moore, Donovan Peoples-Jones, or rookie Cedric Tillman must step up. The Browns traded for Moore from the Jets this offseason, and the slot receiver has been a breakout candidate in the fantasy sphere since.
But we also need to see an improved version of Moore if he wants to be the guy that Watson trusts most after Amari Cooper, who is undeniably the team’s top WR. Although Moore is incredibly shifty, that hasn’t often translated to route-running precision. The talented-but-inconsistent pass catcher needs to show the world he can take that next step.
Jets DE Will McDonald IV
Seeing Will McDonald in his natural habitat should be a treat. The 240-pound edge rusher was forced into a 290-pound role at Iowa State a season ago. Getting away from the 4i alignment should do McDonald a ton of good from a production perspective. He is an explosive, bendy, and impressively technical rusher when he’s given an opportunity to actually attack the arc.
Although his production as a rookie may feel underwhelming at year’s end, the Jets don’t necessarily need the rookie to be an All-Pro immediately. John Franklin-Myers, Carl Lawson, and Jermaine Johnson should all be high-snap players, and Micheal Clemons will likely rotate in as well.
But in the preseason, where McDonald may not have to face opposing starters, things could get rather ugly for opposing QBs.