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AFC preseason Week 1 grades: Sam Darnold, Andrew Luck shine

The preseason is a time for jobs to be won, opportunities to be seized and depth charts to be determined. So, while wins and losses might not matter, there's plenty at stake for many players in these exhibition games. 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:

Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson, QB. There's no denying Jackson's spectacular skills as a playmaker, but he remains a work in progress as a passer. Against the Rams, Jackson made a few "wow" plays, but he couldn't string together enough completions to sustain drives during a so-so effort that saw him complete 7 of 18 passes for 119 yards and add a rushing score. With Jackson repeatedly missing the mark on a handful of throws inside the numbers, the Ravens' future QB1 needs to find his groove as a passer before he can seriously challenge Joe Flacco for the starting gig. Grade: C+

Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, QB. The rookie gunslinger certainly teased Bills fans with flashes of his arm talent and athleticism during an up-and-down debut performance. Allen connected on 9 of 19 passes for 116 yards and a score on a variety of laser-like tosses that showcased his A+ arm strength. However, he also showed the inconsistent accuracy and decision-making that plagued him during his collegiate career. Grade: B-

Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB. The No. 1 overall pick created some buzz on Twitter with a solid debut performance that could lead Hue Jackson to reopen the quarterback competition in training camp. Mayfield completed 11 of 20 passes for 212 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Giants. Although his "splash" plays (10-yard TD pass to David Njoku; 54-yard TD pass to Antonio Callaway on a slant) looked like they were pulled straight from his Oklahoma highlight reel, Mayfield needs to continue to work on his timing and rhythm inside the pocket. He narrowly missed a few deep shots along the boundary and displayed "happy" feet on more than one occasion. Overall, it was a strong performance for No. 6. Grade: B+

Cincinnati Bengals: John Ross, WR. The 2017 first-round pick is essentially a rookie again after playing just 17 snaps last season during an injury-plagued year. Ross played like a first-year guy in an up-and-down performance that included some highs (20-yard catch-and-run play) and some lows (slip and fall that led to a pick-six; couldn't get his feet down on an end-zone throw from Matt Barkley) for the speedster. Grade: C

Denver Broncos: Royce Freeman, RB. The Broncos might have found their RB1 in Freeman, based on his strong effort against the Vikings. The 6-foot, 229-pound runner flashed a solid combination of strength, power and toughness with the ball in his hands on tough runs between the tackles. In addition, he showed good balance and body control turning the corner on his 23-yard touchdown run. If Freeman continues to show he's capable of running tough between the tackles, he will be the Broncos' top back when the season starts. Grade: B+

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson, QB. The Texans' QB1 checked off all of the boxes in his return to action after missing the final half of the 2017 season with a torn ACL. Despite playing only one series, Watson looked spry and athletic handing the ball to Lamar Miller (four rushing attempts) and was on-point completing his only pass attempt to Bruce Ellington for a 4-yard gain on a quick out. Grade: B

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB. It's uncommon to get worked up about a three-time Pro Bowler's performance in a meaningless preseason game, but Luck's return to action after an 19-month hiatus should restore the hope of Colts fans across the country. No. 12 was clean and efficient, directing a quick-rhythm passing game that features a number of swing passes and underneath routes. Luck not only delivered the ball on time and in rhythm, but he was deadly accurate hitting his targets on the move. Although he will need to expand his game beyond "layups" when the regular season starts, Luck looks like he is on track to regain his Pro Bowl form by the start of the season. Grade: A-

Jacksonville Jaguars: Cody Kessler, QB. The former Browns castoff played like the preseason MVP during the Jaguars' opener. Kessler completed 14 of 17 passes for 139 yards and a score while directing the offense with razor-sharp precision. From his ability to hit receivers on quick-rhythm throws to finding the checkdown after fully going through his progression, Kessler worked the defense from side to side to exploit the voids in coverage. While some will dismiss his effort against "2s" and "3s," Kessler's work should earn good marks from his coaches in their postgame film sessions. Grade: A-

Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes, QB. The second-year pro showed impressive poise, discipline and toughness in the Chiefs' preseason opener. Mahomes completed 5 of 7 passes for 33 yards while absorbing a number of hard hits in the pocket. He quickly flipped the ball out to Tyreek Hill on a couple of bubble screens and found Travis Kelce between the hashes on a deep-pivot route. Although Mahomes didn't get a chance to push the ball down the field often, he showed the football world he might be able to play small ball when defenses take away the deep ball. Grade: B

Los Angeles Chargers: Cardale Jones, QB. If Jones is going to be the Chargers' QB2, he will need to pick up his play in the coming weeks. The third-year pro completed just 6 of 12 passes for 50 yards and looked nothing like a potential starter at the position. Jones' accuracy woes and suspect judgment haven't improved since his rookie season, which opens the door for Geno Smith to swipe the Chargers' backup quarterback job. Grade: C-

Miami Dolphins: Kalen Ballage, RB. The fourth-round pick is a dark horse to win the RB1 job. His versatility and explosiveness could at least lead to a role as a key contributor. Ballage tallied 60 scrimmage yards on 13 touches (10 rushes; three receptions), showing "hybrid" playmaking skills as a big-bodied runner/receiver. Although he had a fumble that tarnished his effort a bit, Ballage's solid debut should earn him a spot in the rotation. Grade: B

New England Patriots: Ralph Webb, RB.Sony Michel's injury opened the door for Webb to get a few more carries as part of an "RBBC" (running back by committee) situation in the Patriots' backfield. The undrafted rookie took advantage of his opportunities by rushing 14 times for 46 yards. He scored two touchdowns and two two-point conversions. Although he is a long shot to crack the regular-season rotation, Webb's versatility, toughness and nose for the end zone could make him a viable option for the practice squad. Grade: B+

New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB. The Jets' option of "redshirting" their QB1 of the future might be off the table after watching Darnold light it up during his debut. No. 14 played with outstanding poise and confidence during a remarkable effort that saw him complete 13 of 18 passes for 96 yards and a score. Darnold was efficient and effective targeting short and intermediate receivers on quick-rhythm plays, but he also made good decisions when he fled the pocket. If he can avoid turnovers while creating big plays on improvisation, it's going to be hard to keep him on the sidelines during the regular season. Grade: A

Oakland Raiders: Chris Warren III, RB. The undrafted rookie is making a strong case to be included on the 53-man roster during camp. Warren has shown a punishing running style throughout the preseason and continues to impress as a "hammer" in games. No. 34 totaled 86 yards on 13 rushing attempts with a handful of "wow" runs sprinkled into the mix. If Warren can continue to churn out big runs tinged with some violence and physicality, he could end up as the team's RB2 by the end of the preseason. Grade: A-

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mason Rudolph, QB. The Steelers' rookie quarterback looked like a future starter, completing 7 of 12 passes for 101 yards in a solid debut performance. Although he racked up his numbers against the Eagles' "2s" and "3s," Rudolph showed patience and poise while attacking the defense with an assortment of short and intermediate passes. In addition, the rookie quarterback made a couple of anticipation throws that showcased his arm strength and touch. Grade: B

Tennessee Titans: Harold Landry, OLB. The second-rounder made a positive first impression with a strip-sack in his debut performance. Landry's first-step quickness and his exceptional closing speed make him tough to slow down off the edge. He used that speed and burst to record the strip-sack and he also put persistent pressure on the quarterback coming off both edges. If Landry continues to torment offensive tackles with his speed, quickness and burst, the Titans' pass rush is going to be a problem for opponents. Grade: A-

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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