Skip to main content

AFC preseason player grades, Week 1: Marcus Mariota uneven

Wins and losses don't count in the NFL preseason -- but individual performances sure do. After each week's slate of preseason action, Bucky Brooks will shine the spotlight on one notable player from each team in the league, grading that player's performance and providing a snapshot of how he's doing in this critical dress-rehearsal phase of the 2015 campaign. The performance grading scale is as follows:

A: Masterful
B: Strong
C: Acceptable
D: Marginal
F: Unacceptable


Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor, QB


Strengths: Coach Rex Ryan's fascination with Taylor stems from the quarterback's athleticism and improvisational skills. He is a fantastic playmaker on the move, and his ability to escape pressure and also execute designed quarterback runs adds another dimension to the Bills' offense. With a strong running game behind him, Taylor's potential as a dual-threat is problematic for opponents.

Weaknesses: Taylor was electric executing movement-based concepts (bootlegs), but he missed a few deep shots down the field against the Panthers on Friday. Those failed connections are worrisome for an offense that should see a lot of one-on-one coverage on the outside, due to the attention running back LeSean McCoy commands in the backfield.

What he needs to work on: Though this will be his fifth NFL season, Taylor has limited game experience (35 career pass attempts in four years with the Ravens) and needs to show coaches he can handle the pressure of directing starters against the opponent's first-team defense. If he can thrive in that environment, the Bills will feel better about his chances of doing it when things get more intense in a few weeks.

Miami Dolphins: Zach Vigil, LB


Strengths: Active linebackers with instincts and rush skills always stand out on tape, and Vigil showed a knack for playmaking and a strong nose for the ball during his preseason debut against the Bears on Thursday, finishing with five tackles and a sack.

Weaknesses: It's hard to knock Vigil for his performance in Week 1, but the youngster has to work on his overall consistency. The splash plays masked some of Vigil's unrefined technique and false steps, but diligent work in the film room could help him play faster in Week 2.

What he needs to work on: Undrafted rookie free agents must make an immediate impression if they are to stick on the 53-man roster, and Vigil definitely opened eyes with his strong showing in Week 1. But he has to continue making plays, even with his on-field time likely to decrease as the starters get extended reps going forward. To sustain momentum, he must make a splash play on special teams or with the second- and third-stringers the next time out.

New England Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB


Strengths: The quick-rhythm passer has a reputation for getting the ball out of his hands in a prompt manner. Garoppolo is a little streaky with his ball placement and touch, but he shows the ability to hit receivers within the strike zone when delivering the ball from a clean pocket.

Weaknesses: Although Garoppolo is known for quickly releasing the ball, on Thursday, he was hesitant and indecisive when the Packers' defense took away his first read. He repeatedly held onto the ball for extended periods, resulting in several sacks and negative plays for the Patriots' offense. New England's leaky offensive line certainly played a role in Garoppolo's struggles; still, he needs to play with better awareness within the pocket.

What he needs to work on: The second-year pro must become more decisive and efficient from the pocket to keep the offense humming while Tom Brady is sidelined. He played faster when the Patriots jumped into their no-huddle offense, and he needs to build on that momentum in Week 2.

New York Jets: Bryce Petty, QB


Strengths: Petty is a talented passer with intriguing physical tools, but the rookie remains a work in progress as an NFL quarterback. The fourth-round draft pick is a quick-rhythm passer capable of delivering throws accurately and on time, but he is still transitioning from the spread offense he worked in at Baylor to a traditional system.

Weaknesses: Petty is an indecisive passer from the pocket. He struggled reading coverage against the Lions, and his uncertainty led to misfires or late throws. Petty's lack of awareness is problematic for an offense that's predicated on rhythm throws.

What he needs to work on: Petty simply needs more repetitions in game action. He is a developmental project and must learn how to orchestrate an offense under duress. Petty struggled against Detroit, but the experience should help him perform better in subsequent weeks.


Baltimore Ravens: Maxx Williams, TE


Strengths: Williams is a smooth pass-catching tight end with strong hands and sneaky movement skills. The rookie not only shows a knack for finding the open windows in zones, but he's crafty enough to work away from man-to-man coverage in space. In addition, the second-round pick is a talented runner with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his remarkable hurdle at the end of a 22-yard catch-and-run Thursday night.

Weaknesses: Despite Williams' impressive ball skills and tracking ability, he can drop an easy ball due to a concentration lapse. Although he didn't suffer a blatant drop against New Orleans, he did fail to come up with a slightly off-target throw from Matt Schaub in the end zone that would've ranked as a spectacular catch on most highlight reels. Granted, it's nitpicking to call a missed 50-50 ball a drop, but Williams has shown the potential to make those kinds of plays in key moments.

What he needs to work on: Slated to play a big role in the Ravens' offense with Dennis Pitta still sidelined, Williams needs to continue to progress as a route runner and playmaker. Still, he's on track to develop into one of the Ravens' key playmakers this season.

Cincinnati Bengals: Tyler Eifert, TE


Strengths: Eifert is finally healthy and playing like the ultra-athletic playmaker the Bengals envisioned when they selected him with the 21st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, reeling in two catches for 30 yards against the Giants. He capably runs away from defenders down the seam, yet also displays the balance and body control to separate out of his breaks.

Weaknesses: Eifert is not a heavyweight blocker in the run game, but he is serviceable at the point of attack. He simply stays in front of his man and keeps him from making a play on the runner. It's not pretty, but it's enough to allow the Bengals to run the ball effectively on the perimeter.

What he needs to work on: Eifert must remain healthy and available during training camp. He has developed a strong rapport with quarterback Andy Dalton and appears to be the Bengals' second option in the passing game.

Cleveland Browns: Justin Gilbert, CB


Strengths: Gilbert is a sticky bump-and-run corner with impressive athleticism and ball skills. When he is instructed to play aggressive press coverage at the line of scrimmage, the former first-round draft pick flashes the potential to develop into an elite playmaker.

Weaknesses: A lack of discipline and concentration leads to big-play chances for the opponent. Pierre Garcon's drop on a deep pass from Robert Griffin III was the only thing that prevented the Redskins from cashing in on a mental mistake by the second-year pro on Thursday. Cleveland's coaches certainly will point out Gilbert's miscues when reviewing the tape with the team.

What he needs to work on: Gilbert has to build upon his impressive flashes with more consistent play throughout the game. While his ball skills and instincts lead to a few sizzle plays, the coaches need to see him continue to play disciplined football when he steps onto the field in Week 2.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Martavis Bryant, WR


Strengths: The second-year pro is already viewed as one of the NFL's most dangerous deep threats, but he continues to show scouts that he has a knack for getting behind the defense on vertical throws. Bryant's 44-yard touchdown catch against the Jaguars on Friday was the latest example of how he can blow past defenders on go routes.

Weaknesses: Bryant is still a work in progress as a route runner. The tall, rangy athlete is at his best executing speed cuts (routes that allow the receiver to stay on the move instead of breaking down and re-directing). But he needs to be able run the entire route tree to be a standout WR1 or WR2 as a pro.

What he needs to work on: Bryant is an intriguing player with an impressive set of skills. Already slated for a big role as a deep threat, he could crack the Steelers' starting lineup by demonstrating more attention to detail as a route runner.


Houston Texans: Alfred Blue, RB


Strengths: Blue is a classic downhill runner capable of churning out big yards between the tackles. The second-year pro runs behind his pads and displays the physicality needed to routinely reach the second level on power plays. Most importantly, Blue flashed enough speed and quickness to blow through creases at the point of attack.

Weaknesses: Blue is in line to replace Arian Foster -- out for the foreseeable future after suffering a major groin injury earlier this month -- as the Texans' feature back to start the season. But Blue isn't nearly as polished as a receiver out of the backfield, and he wasn't intimately involved in the Texans' passing game against the Niners on Saturday. If Blue is to become more than a two-down player in the game plan, he needs to be a factor as a receiver.

What he needs to work on: The former sixth-round pick earned solid reviews for his play as a fill-in last year, but he needs to show coaches and scouts that he can anchor the offense as the team's RB1. If he can consistently pick up the hard yards against the opponent's starters, head coach Bill O'Brien will feel better about Blue serving as the workhorse until Foster returns.

Indianapolis Colts: Phillip Dorsett, WR


Strengths: Dorsett's speed and explosiveness jump off the screen. Not only is the rookie noticeably faster than his teammates, but he possesses the kind of stop-start quickness that makes him an intriguing weapon on catch-and-run plays (quick screens and crossing routes).

Weaknesses: His hands were the biggest concern during the pre-draft process, but the 29th overall pick caught the ball well against the Eagles on Sunday (four catches for 51 yards). However, he also fumbled after making a catch on a crossing route; the lack of ball security in traffic was surprising to see from a standout kick returner.

What he needs to work on: The rookie certainly looked like a dynamic weapon in his preseason debut. If he can continue to consistently catch the ball and become a more refined route runner, the budding star will emerge as a huge threat on the perimeter and alleviate some of the pressure on T.Y. Hilton to anchor the passing game.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB


Strengths: Bortles is a big, athletic signal caller with outstanding arm talent, a decisive passer playing with improved footwork and mechanics from the pocket. Against the Steelers on Friday, Bortles had a strong performance, quickly working through his reads to hit the second or third option in the progression. He was decisive and accurate with the ball. He also showed better awareness and command by exhausting his options within a route before looking to flee the pocket. Most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over and looked like he was in complete command of the offense.

Weaknesses: The second-year pro continues to deal with growing pains as the Jaguars' starting quarterback. He fails to sync his feet with his eyes at times, leading to errant throws from the pocket. He's made significant strides in this area, but he needs to continue to hone his skills as a pocket passer.

What he needs to work on: With more repetitions against complex coverage on the horizon, Bortles needs to continue to show patience and composure as a playmaker from the pocket.

Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB


Strengths: The second overall pick is an efficient playmaker from the pocket with outstanding physical tools (arm strength and athleticism) and awareness. Mariota makes good decisions with the ball when given ample time in the pocket; he flashes the ability to pick apart defenses with a "dink and dunk" approach.

Weaknesses: Mariota struggled with ball security at Oregon, putting the ball on the ground too frequently for an elite quarterback, and he didn't show awareness with rushers in close proximity. Those issues remain a concern after watching him fumble on a strip-sack early in Friday's matchup with the Falcons. Mariota also turned the ball over on an errant screen pass, although he is generally a judicious passer with a good feel for risk-taking.

What he needs to work on: The rookie showed outstanding composure and resilience bouncing back from his poor start against Atlanta. He needs to build upon the momentum created during his final series to get the Titans off to a faster start in Week 2 against the Rams. Most importantly, the coaches need to identify which routes and concepts will help the rookie passer find his rhythm early in games.


Denver Broncos: Brock Osweiler, QB


Strengths: Osweiler is an efficient passer with a good feel for coach Gary Kubiak's play-action passing game. The fourth-year pro delivered the ball on point and on target following strong run fakes; his overall efficiency allowed the Broncos to stay on schedule against a swarming Seahawks' defense on Friday. Most importantly, Osweiler (15 of 20 for 151 yards and a touchdown) showed impressive grit and toughness delivering accurate throws with rushers in close proximity.

Weaknesses: It's hard to knock Osweiler for his performance against Seattle. He patiently worked the underneath areas of coverage and showed the ability to get to his second or third read in the progression. Given the challenge Seattle's defense presents, the performance was quite impressive.

What he needs to work on: Osweiler simply needs more reps to increase his confidence as a potential starting quarterback. If he continues to stay within his boundaries, he can solidify his standing as the Broncos' quarterback of the future.

Kansas City Chiefs: Ramik Wilson, LB


Strengths: The fourth-round pick is an active linebacker with a strong nose for the ball. He quickly diagnoses plays and finds a way to get around the action. Although hustling isn't a skill, the extra effort Wilson displays on the field will ultimately lead to positive plays.

Weaknesses: Like most young linebackers, Wilson struggles to take on and disengage from blockers in the hole. He needs to continue to work on his combat skills and find a way to consistently slither through traffic to get to the ball.

What he needs to work on: Wilson made a positive impression in his preseason debut against the Cardinals, racking up six tackles and an interception. He can enhance his chances of making the squad by continuing to impress as a position player while also making a handful of plays on special teams. Wilson needs to be active and physical against the run while also showing discipline and awareness as a pass defender. If he continues to progress in those areas, he will make a strong push to earn a spot as a backup player on a team loaded with talent.

Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR


Strengths: Cooper was roundly touted as the most pro-ready receiver to enter the NFL in years ahead of the 2015 NFL Draft, and the fourth overall pick definitely lived up to the hype in his preseason debut against the Rams. Not only did he display outstanding polish as a route runner, but he is an electric WR1 with sneaky running skills on the perimeter.

Weaknesses: Defeating press coverage at the line will be Cooper's biggest challenge as a pro. Although he is a skilled route runner with an array of releases, he still needs to work on escaping the clutches of physical defenders in tight coverage.

What he needs to work on: As the Raiders' clear WR1, he must prepare for the double coverage that he'll inevitably face down the road. He won't see exotic coverage during the preseason, but he can work on his escape skills against press or rolled coverage. How well he fares during the preseason will give the Raiders' coaches an indication of how to build a game plan to get him loose against elite competition.

San Diego Chargers: Melvin Gordon, RB


Strengths: The 15th overall pick is an explosive runner with exceptional speed and quickness. He is at his best attacking the edges, but also shows the vision and burst to split creases between the tackles.

Weaknesses: The rookie looks unsure and hesitant at the line of scrimmage. Against the Cowboys on Thursday, he frequently stopped his feet or stutter-stepped immediately after taking the handoff, leading to minimal gains (11 yards on six carries) against a fast-flowing defense.

What he needs to work on: Gordon must be more aggressive and decisive with the ball in his hands. As quickly as holes close in the NFL, Gordon has to find a way to makes his reads on the run to be a productive pro.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content