Evaluating Lamar Jackson and other 2018 rookies in the Hall of Fame Game
We didn't see many marquee rookies in the Hall of Fame Game, but two first-year pass-catchers stole the show
We didn't see the full array of 2018 rookies from the Bears or Ravens in the Hall of Fame game, but a few notable first-year players like that Lamar Jackson guy took the field for their debut action in the preseason.
Let's examine how those youngsters performed in the first exhibition game of the summer.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens
For the most part, Jackson looked like your classic rookie quarterback playing in his first professional game. On a few rollouts and scrambles, he showed glimpses of his ridiculous athletic ability that allows him to effortlessly glide across the field but was sacked three times and threw a pick on a late throw that was made too far inside on an toss toward the sideline. His touchdown strike was a good one, as was a completion just outside the pocket scrambling when he certainly could've tucked it to run. The former Louisville superstar was pressured often and saw multiple defenders in the backfield essentially unimpeded, not ideal for a young signal-caller making his preseason debut in the NFL. Far from the best outing. Not brutal either.
Hayden Hurst, TE, Ravens
Hurst looked smooth against the Bears, catching four passes for 22 yards with a touchdown. Mostly known for his seam-stretching ability, he won on a handful of short routes which led to his solid statistical output -- given it was an exhibition game. Baltimore's first-round tight end was physical against press coverage and demonstrated contested-catch ability on a grab on a slant and his cuts were sharp, leading to separation. Good night for him.
Orlando Brown, OT, Ravens
The Hall of Fame Game was an extensive showcase for Brown. The third-round pick played the entire contest until mid-way through the fourth quarter, and he performed well. It wasn't the dominant effort he repeatedly displayed at Oklahoma over the past few seasons, yet, maybe most importantly, he didn't look out of place athletically. Teams were concerned about his movement skills after his poor combine. His kick-slide in pass protection covered plenty of ground quickly, and he consistently struck edge-rushers with an adequately strong punch from a balanced base. He also handled a few twists, not an easy task for young, large offensive linemen. Brown moved well as a run-blocker and occasionally found and engaged second-level defenders. On a few snaps, fellow rookie Kylie Fitts -- who happened to have an underrated combine -- did beat him around the edge with a rapid speed rush. However, Brown's length allowed him to stay calm, as he kept the former Utah Ute at bay or pushed him past the quarterback. Could he have been called for a hold or two? Maybe. But all-in-all, Brown had a solid outing.
Bradley Bozeman, IOL, Ravens
Bozeman flipped from left guard to center each possession, and as expected, he looked considerably more comfortable manning the pivot than he did at guard. The former Alabama blocker's slip to the sixth round was likely due to a lack of athleticism, and at guard, where he'll be on the move much more than he is at center, that weakness is accentuated. In man-to-man situations or with seal and down-block duties, Bozeman can be a serviceable player in the NFL. However, I did notice a few plays in which he was overwhelmed by bull-rushes from veterans. Typical for a rookie lineman. You've probably read this from me before, but it often takes a full year for an offensive lineman to get "NFL strong." He's in a battle for one of those interior line spots in Baltimore.
Javon Wims, WR, Ravens
The 2018 seventh-rounder made the absolute most out of his opportunity without Allen Robinson and classmate Anthony Miller on the field for the Bears. He finished the night with seven grabs for 89 yards and exhibited his entire skillset in the process. Like he did many times at Georgia, Wims climbed the ladder and came down with a 50-50 ball on a deep shot -- and he did it on former Alabama corner Anthony Averett. He used his big body to shield defenders on some in-breaking routes and pieced together some impressive yards after the catch. Wims was my No. 167 overall prospect in the 2018 class, and he went No. 224 overall, meaning, I -- along with many others --won't be surprised if he outplays his draft position in the pros. He accounted for five first downs and was the best offensive player on the field in the Hall of Fame Game.
Kylie Fitts, EDGE, Bears
At nearly 6-foot-4 and 263 pounds, Fitts zoomed to a 6.88 time in the three-cone drill at the combine, which placed in the 95th percentile among edge-rushers at the combine starting in 1999. Fitts didn't have the most productive collegiate career, yet showed out at the Senior Bowl with an assortment of pass-rushing moves that highlighted his athleticism -- most namely a tightly-wound spin. He had a good battle with Brown for most of the evening, certainly applied some pressure on the backfield and had a sack. Fitts' debut was encouraging for Chicago, a team in need of more juice on the outside.
Bilal Nichols, DT, Bears
The interior defensive lineman from Delaware had himself a night, particularly later in the game when he took down Jackson for a sack on a scramble attempt. He was in on a few tackles near the line of scrimmage against the run too. The moment certainly didn't look too big for him, and the fifth-rounder wasn't easily moved on the inside.
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