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AFC preseason grades: Jimmy Garoppolo, T.J. Watt rock Week 1

Final scores might not matter in the preseason, but individual performances sure do. Careers can be made, opportunities can be seized and depth charts can be decided in the exhibition contests leading up to the first kickoff that counts. To help put these moments into context, Bucky Brooks will provide a grade for one player of interest from every NFL team after each of the first three full weeks of preseason action.

Below, see the AFC player grades following Week 1:


Ryan Mallett, QB: The shaky training camp for the seventh-year pro continued with a lackluster performance against Washington. Mallett connected on nine of his 18 throws for just 58 yards, without a completion longer than 11 yards. Despite leading his team to 13 points and taking good care of the football, Mallett missed too many layups and still struggles with his consistency as a passer. Grade: C+


Nathan Peterman, QB: The fifth-round pick out of Pittsburgh continues to make a favorable impression on his teammates and coaches with his work on the field. He completed 13 of 25 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings, directing one 13-play, 79-yard TD drive that showcased his ability to manage the game. Peterman showed nice touch and anticipation as a rhythm passer, particularly on his 1-yard touchdown to Dezmin Lewis. Grade: B


Joe Mixon, RB: The ultra-talented runner gave the football world a glimpse of his big-play potential in a brief performance against Tampa Bay that saw him total 42 scrimmage yards on seven touches. Mixon flashed nifty footwork, balance and body control running between the tackles, while also displaying outstanding strength and power. The rookie turned a dump-off pass into a first down with a spectacular "make you miss" exhibition in the open field. Grade: B+


DeShone Kizer, QB: The second-round pick truly entered the conversation as the team's starting quarterback with a strong debut performance that showcased his A-plus arm talent and athleticism. Kizer completed 11 of 18 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown against New Orleans' backups. While he had a few misfires that exhibited some of the accuracy issues he struggled with at Notre Dame, he definitely flashed the big arm and range that scouts raved about during the pre-draft process. Grade: B


Paxton Lynch, QB: The second-year pro didn't gain an edge on Trevor Siemian in the QB1 competition, but he made a solid impression on team officials with his play in Chicago. After a slow start, Lynch finished the night with six completions on nine throws for 42 yards. Although he didn't push the action down the field, the big-bodied passer was efficient getting the ball to his playmakers on the perimeter. And he avoided the kind of big mistake/turnover that has plagued him at times. Grade: B


Deshaun Watson, QB: The Texans' first-round pick created a lot of excitement with his pro debut at Carolina. He connected on 15 of 25 passes for 179 yards and added a rushing touchdown, displaying the confidence, poise and composure that made him a big winner at the collegiate level. He displayed solid skills as a quick-rhythm passer from the pocket and a pinpoint thrower on the move, but Watson still needs to work on his ability to make accurate throws down the field. Grade: A


Scott Tolzien, QB: The Colts should have serious concerns about their QB2 spot, based on Tolzien's play against Detroit. The veteran couldn't find his rhythm in the pocket and the offense failed to move under his direction. Although Tolzien only played a few series and didn't have a complete supporting cast at his disposal, you expect more from a veteran QB during a preseason opener that features vanilla looks from the opponent. Grade: D


Leonard Fournette, RB: During his debut performance against New England, Fournette showed some of the skills that made him the No. 4 overall pick in April. The Jaguars' RB1 rushed for 31 yards on nine carries and scored a 1-yard touchdown to cap off an impressive drive. Most importantly, he displayed the combination of strength, power, balance and body control that does indeed make him an NFL rushing title candidate in Year 1. Grade: B+


Patrick Mahomes, QB: The ultra-talented gunslinger was pretty impressive in his debut outing against San Francisco. Mahomes quickly found his rhythm by hitting a few layups (bubble screens) before showing off his gun on some rhythm throws at intermediate distance. While he misfired on a few slants near the red zone, Mahomes' arm talent and athleticism certainly stood out on tape. Grade: B+


Cardale Jones, QB: The Chargers' recent trade acquisition didn't impress in his debut performance with the team. Jones completed just two of his nine passes and looked nothing like a potential QB2. He misfired on handful of throws to open receivers in the flats and couldn't find his rhythm as a pocket passer. While Jones is still adjusting to a new offense after coming over from Buffalo last month, Jones must play better to seize the backup job from Kellen Clemens. Grade: C


Leonte Carroo, WR: The second-year pro was only targeted once vs. Atlanta, but he snagged a 33-yard touchdown on that lone opportunity. Carroo made a nice adjustment on the underthrown pass from Brandon Doughty, exhibiting nice ball skills and tracking ability down the boundary. With the 2016 third-round pick building on the momentum created throughout training camp, the Dolphins should be encouraged by his progress to this point. Grade: B


Jimmy Garoppolo, QB: The prized potential QB1 teased prospective teams with his combination of arm talent, athleticism and pocket poise. Garoppolo connected on 22 of 28 pass attempts for 235 yards and two touchdowns and zero picks, exhibiting a wide array of skills as a pinpoint passer inside and outside of the pocket. With the fourth-year pro showing the football world that he can make every throw in the book, the buzz will continue to build about his prospects as a franchise quarterback in New England or elsewhere in the near future. Grade: A


Christian Hackenberg, QB: The Jets' much-maligned young quarterback silenced his critics for the moment with a solid performance against Tennessee. Hackenberg completed 18 of 25 passes for 127 yards on an assortment of short, quick-rhythm throws that showcased his improved decisiveness from the pocket. Although Hackenberg missed a few downfield throws, he has made some progress as a pro passer in Year 2. Grade: B


Karl Joseph, S: The hard-hitting safety looks like he is ready to break out in his second season, based on his performance in the Raiders' preseason opener against Arizona. Joseph delivered a handful of "bang bang" hits on the Cardinals' skill players, exhibiting the power and pop that's expected from an enforcer. With Joseph healthy and spry in the back end, the Raiders' secondary should be improved in 2017. Grade: B


T.J. Watt, OLB: The hard-working edge defender finished with three tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup, showing off the energy and hand skills that made him one of the top pass rushers in this draft class. Watt's relentlessness, strength and athleticism stood out in his debut vs. the Giants. This is what the Steelers had in mind when they selected J.J.'s little brother with the 30th overall pick in April. Grade: A-


Taywan Taylor, WR: The speedster might've been the Titans' lone bright spot in a disappointing offensive performance against the Jets. Taylor finished the night with 56 receiving yards on four receptions, including a spectacular 42-yard grab that highlighted his speed, ball skills and leaping ability. As a legitimate vertical threat with speed to burn, Taylor's debut could help him earn a permanent role as the team's deep-ball specialist. Grade: B

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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