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Week 3 preseason grades, NFC: Ezekiel Elliott lives up to hype

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Preseason football is here -- and while wins and losses mean nothing, individual performances can mean everything. As the preseason slate progresses, Bucky Brooks will be assessing the performances of notable players, handing out grades to provide context for the prior week's on-field action.

Below, find report cards for one key player from each NFC team following Week 3's preseason action.

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS: Ezekiel Elliott, running back. The debut of the Cowboys' new RB1 was a spectacular showcase for the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Elliott was as good as advertised, combining power with exceptional speed, balance and body control. He is nifty and shifty between the tackles, yet also displays the strength, power and physicality to run through tacklers on the second level (see: Kam Chancellor). With Elliott also showing solid skills as a blocker and receiver, the Cowboys' feature back is a true three-down player with big-time potential. GRADE: A+

NEW YORK GIANTS: Eli Apple, cornerback. The rookie corner had a solid showing against the Jets. Apple held his own in his battle with Jets receiver Eric Decker, exhibiting good moment skills and quickness shadowing the big-bodied pass catcher down the field. The rookie not only battled the veteran tooth and nail throughout the route, but he consistently maintained hip-pocket positioning at the break point. Although he didn't register any tackles or pass breakups, Apple should earn solid marks from his coaches for his performance in the Snoopy Bowl. GRADE: B

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Dorial Green-Beckham, wide receiver. The recent trade for Green-Beckham gives the Eagles more size and playmaking ability on the perimeter. DGB flexed his muscles against the Colts on Saturday, showcasing his athleticism on a 4-yard fade route for a score against Tay Glover-Wright. Considering how the Eagles receivers have struggled getting open on the outside, the presence of a big-bodied receiver with the potential to win 50-50 balls could help Sam Bradford (and Carson Wentz or Chase Daniel) find his rhythm in the pocket. GRADE: B+

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Kendall Fuller, cornerback. The Redskins made out like bandits on draft day when they were able to pluck a legitimate CB1 prospect in the third round. Fuller is starting to look the part of a ballhawk with terrific instincts and awareness. Sure, his interception against the Bills on Friday came on a desperation play in the game's closing moments, but his solid coverage also netted a breakup earlier in the contest. As Fuller settles into his role as the team's nickel/dime corner, the Redskins could see the Virginia Tech product grow into a playmaker by the end of his rookie season. GRADE: B

NFC NORTH

CHICAGO BEARS: Harold Jones-Quartey, safety. The second-year safety was one of the few bright spots in the team's loss to the Chiefs. Jones-Quartey flew to the ball with reckless abandon from his safety spot on the way to delivering big hits to foes (and friends). In addition, the young safety displayed solid cover skills matching up with tight ends in space. The stellar effort wasn't enough to spark the Bears' defense, but it certainly helped Jones-Quartey receive his coaching staff's attention. GRADE: B

DETROIT LIONS: Travis Swanson, center. The third-year pro was outstanding in the middle of the Lions' offensive line. Swanson dominated his one-on-one battles at the point of attack, displaying explosive strength and power against the Ravens. In addition, he showed great awareness picking up stunts, games and blitzes in pass protection. Swanson has made tremendous strides since entering the NFL, and it showed in Baltimore. GRADE: B+

GREEN BAY PACKERS: Datone Jones, outside linebacker. The fourth-year pro is making steady progress as he transitions to outside linebacker from defensive end. Jones has a nice combination of size, strength and athleticism as a run defender off the edge, as evidenced by his ability to hold the point. In addition, he shows sound diagnostic skills reacting to zone-read plays (see: his hit on Colin Kaepernick in the backfield), which is a testament to his discipline against the run. GRADE: B

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Stefon Diggs, wide receiver. The Vikings' WR1 remains the team's biggest playmaker in the passing game. Diggs is not only an outstanding route runner with terrific ball skills, but he is an explosive catch-and-run specialist capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. He showcased his dynamic skills in a five-catch, 71-yard effort against the Chargers that included a ballerina-like toe tap on the boundary on a 22-yard reception. As opponents begin to focus on taking away rookie Laquon Treadwell on the perimeter, Diggs will continue to post big numbers as Teddy Bridgewater's top target. GRADE: A-

NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS: Deion Jones, linebacker. The speedy linebacker is starting to make noise as a tackling machine between the tackles. Jones notched five tackles and a quarterback hurry against the Dolphins, exhibiting outstanding instincts and awareness corralling runners in the hole. The Falcons want more speed and athleticism on the second level; Jones adds that and more to a defense aiming to rebound from a disappointing 2015 campaign. GRADE: B+

CAROLINA PANTHERS: James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, cornerbacks. The Panthers' rookie corners are expected to help replace All-Pro Josh Norman in the secondary with their collective length, athleticism and ball skills. Through three preseason games, Bradberry and Worley look up to the task to start from Day 1. Both players fared well under a barrage of throws in their direction, displaying tight coverage and solid instincts. Although the Panthers employ a zone-based scheme that makes it easier to incorporate young players, Bradberry and Worley deserve credit for their disciplined play in the back end. GRADE: B

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Andrus Peat, offensive guard. The Saints' former first-round pick has improved mightily since his arrival, but he still doesn't quite have a permanent home on the O-line. Peat started at right guard against the Steelers but continued to struggle against the power players at the point of attack. He lacks the quickness to effectively position blocks and doesn't show the pop to move low-leverage defenders off the ball. Despite giving good effort, Peat still struggles to register winning performances against quality defenders. GRADE: C-

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Roberto Aguayo, kicker. After landing on this list a week ago with a poor grade for his failures during the preseason, Aguayo returns, albeit this time after a strong showing against the Browns. The second-rounder finished a perfect 6 for 6 (three extra points and field goals from 48, 21 and 27 yards) while displaying poise and confidence with each kick. Given the enormous pressure on the Florida State product due to his high draft position and early struggles, Aguayo has earned a temporary reprieve after Friday's solid performance. GRADE: A

NFC WEST

ARIZONA CARDINALS: Justin Bethel, cornerback. The three-time Pro Bowl special teams standout struggled to hold his own in one-on-one coverage against the Texans. Rookie wideout Will Fuller beat Bethel repeatedly on go routes, taking advantage of Bethel's questionable technique and recovery speed on both plays. With teams reluctant to target Patrick Peterson on the perimeter, Bethel's vulnerabilities could put a bull's eye on his chest when quarterbacks look for the weak link in the Cardinals' secondary. GRADE: D

LOS ANGELES RAMS: Jared Goff, quarterback. The No. 1 overall pick continues to show the football world he isn't ready to take the QB1 job in Los Angeles. Goff connected on just 4 of 12 passes for 45 yards and took a sack for a 10-yard loss. From his hesitancy in the pocket to his off-the-mark throws, Goff looks overwhelmed by the speed and pace of the game. Now, some of that is to be expected from a rookie passer going through his first preseason, but the top pick in the draft has been a bit of a disappointment to this point. GRADE: D

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Tank Carradine, outside linebacker. The former defensive end is making significant progress transitioning to outside linebacker for the 49ers. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound pass rusher has notched sacks in back-to-back games while showing exceptional strength and power off the edge. Carradine shows a natural feel for hunting quarterbacks as a power-based rusher in the team's 3-4 scheme. As the Niners look for more impact players on the defensive side, Carradine's emergence as a legitimate rusher could help the unit improve in 2016. GRADE: B+

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: C.J. Prosise, running back. The rookie runner's debut featured a couple of flashes that will certainly pique the interest of Seahawks coaches looking for a complement to Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls. Prosise is a smooth runner with outstanding balance and body control between the tackles. Most importantly, he flashes enough quickness to explode through holes to get to the second level. Although he didn't snag a pass in the game, Prosise can make an impact as a multipurpose option out of the backfield for Seattle. GRADE: B

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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