The 2019 NFL season unofficially kicked off in Canton on Thursday night when the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons did battle in the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.
The action wasn’t pretty. Neither team played its starters in this one with Kevin Hogan and Matt Schaub getting the start for their two teams.
Despite it being an otherwise meaningless affair, there were some winners and losers from Denver’s 14-10 win over Atlanta. Here’s are some of them.
Winner: Su’a Cravens
Here’s a player that is firmly on the roster bubble during training camp. A USC product, Cravens has always boasted the talent necessary to succeed in the NFL. Unfortunately, injuries have marred his career to the tune of 16 games in three seasons.
The good news? Cravens was out there playing at a high level against the Falcons’ backup offense Thursday evening. He recorded two tackles, including one great tackle for loss in limited action. If Cravens can continue to make this type of impact, he’ll not only make the team but could see the field this season.
Loser: Ra’Shede Hageman
A former early second-round pick of the Falcons back in 2014, this defensive tackle is battling for a spot on the 53-man roster. Hageman has not played in the regular season since 2016 due to various injuries. Unfortunately, he went down early on Thursday with a hamstring injury and did not return to action.
At this point, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Hageman will not make the 53. His injuries and conditioning has caught up with the former college star.
Winner: Chris Lindstrom
This rookie first-round pick is expected to start at guard for the Falcons. If his initial NFL action Thursday night is any indication, the Boston College product will be more than ready. He was finishing blocks at a tremendous clip throughout the game.
Lindstrom was also instrumental in the only touchdown of the first half, a three-yard run from Khalfani Muhammad. If we’re being honest, Lindstrom’s presence inside in Atlanta could be absolutely huge for quarterback Matt Ryan and Co. The guard proved that in his debut.
Loser: Matt Schaub
It’s actually pretty sad to realize that Schaub is playing football in the year 2019. The 38-year-old Schaub was last a starter for the Houston Texans back in 2013. He’s thrown 63 regular-season passes since. With Atlanta sitting Matt Ryan on Thursday, Schaub got an opportunity to prove that he belongs in the NFL. It did not go swimmingly.
The veteran completed 4-of-14 passes for 10 yards with an interception. That really is an accomplishment in and of itself. Ten yards on 14 pass attempts. Well done, Mr. Schaub.
Winner: John Cominsky
A fourth-round pick of the Falcons back in April, Cominsky has been making waves during his initial training camp in the league. That extended to the preseason opener in Canton Thursday evening. Given ample playing time with Atlanta’s starters resting, Cominsky put on a show.
Cominsky recorded six tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss in the game. It was a darn good initial performance in real-game action. And given Atlanta’s pass-rush issues, it could lead to some extended playing time for him as a rookie.
Loser: Drew Lock
This rookie second-round pick looked all out of sorts early on in his debut. Lock was throwing the ball behind his receivers. He struggled with anticipation. He held on to the ball too long, leading to two sacks within his first five drop backs.
It’s not necessarily a surprise. Head coach Vic Fangio indicated recently that Lock is not yet a quarterbak. He’s just a thrower. And one of the knocks coming out of Missouri was that Lock was going to be a project. Thursday magnified this to a T. In the end, he completed 7-of-11 passes for 34 yards
Winner: Kurt Benkert
An undrafted rookie free agent back in 2018, Benkert has been a major project in Atlanta. But he has the arm strength to make it in the NFL. That was on full display with the Virginia product tossing the ball all over the field Thursday evening.
Benkert completed 11-of-18 passes for 112 yards in the first half alone. That included a brilliant eight-play, 61-yard touchdown scoring drive to close out the second quarter. He showed poise in the pocket during the two-minute drill. While Benkert did have to depart due to a toe injury in the fourth, he more than made an impression in this one.
Loser: Noah Fant
Denver is going to be relying on this rookie first-round pick to help Joe Flacco make the transition to Mile High. As most of you already know, Flacco relies a great deal on his tight ends. That was the case in Baltimore. It’s going to be the case with the Broncos.
Unfortunately, Fant looked in over his head in his preseason debut. He caught just 1-of-3 targets, dropping two passes in the process. The former Iowa standout is athletic as all get out. He creates mismatches all over the field. But he’s going to have to catch the ball at a more consistent rate. That did not happen Thursday evening in Canton.