NFC preseason player grades, Week 4: Jarryd Hayne shines

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 has been shining 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

Week 4 presents a special case, as most key players typically do not see the field in the preseason finale. So this last edition of preseason grades is based on a broader overview of the preseason in general, with a focus on what to expect for each player as the regular season gets going.


Dallas Cowboys: Randy Gregory, DE


Strengths: Gregory has explosive first-step quickness and movement skills. The rookie can win with speed and quickness, but he also shows the ability to attack blockers with power. Gregory's versatile skills have made him difficult to block, as evidenced by the three sacks (one per game) he notched during the preseason. Most impressively, Gregory showed better hand-to-hand combat skills, including a "stab" maneuver (stiff-arm) that allows him to diversify his game at the line. He demolished the Niners in Week 2 with a series of moves that left blockers confused; he put on similar shows against the Chargersin Week 1 and Vikingsin Week 3 that confirmed his potential as a destructive force off the edge.

Weaknesses: Gregory's slender build and sub-standard weight make him a potential liability against the run. He's energetic and battles, but Gregory must play with leverage and low pad level to hold his ground against rugged blockers at the point of attack.

Expectations going forward: The second-round pick can be a dominant playmaker as a situational pass rusher. He has the ability to deliver Aldon Smith-like production off the edge as a part of a rotation that features Greg Hardy and DeMarcus Lawrence.

New York Giants: Landon Collins, SS


Strengths: Collins is an active defender with outstanding instincts and awareness. The rookie is a run-first safety with a knack for delivering big hits on runners in the hole, yet he also displays enough athleticism and range to cover from numbers to numbers as a deep-middle player. Against the Jetsin Week 3 and Patriotsin Week 4, Collins stood out on tape as a tackling machine. He also registered a pass breakup and a dropped interception against the Patriots that showcased his cover skills and range in the back end.

Weaknesses: Collins is viewed as a questionable defender in coverage. He lacks the fluidity to cover wide receivers and some select tight ends in space. This could make him a liability as a drop-down defender in sub-packages against elite pass catchers within the NFC East.

Expectations going forward: The second-round pick is expected to bring leadership and playmaking ability to the secondary. Despite his limitations in coverage, he is an active "MOF" (middle of the field) player with the instincts to make plays on the ball. Overall, he should upgrade the Giants' D and help give New York a puncher's chance to win the division crown.

Philadelphia Eagles: Nelson Agholor, WR


Strengths: Agholor is an electric playmaker with all the tools to be a very productive WR2. He is a polished route runner with soft hands and explosive running skills. The shifty rookie excels at running through arm tackles on the perimeter, and he has the wiggle and shake to evade defenders in the open field (see: his 34-yard touchdown catch against Indianapolis in Week 1). As a premier catch-and-run specialist, Agholor is a perfect fit for the Eagles' quick-rhythm offense.

Weaknesses: Agholor's inconsistent hands are a concern heading into the regular season. He dropped a handful of passes during the preseason (including in that Colts game), raising questions about his concentration and focus. Although he's tended to bounce back and make the spectacular grab, this is a trend to monitor.

Expectations going forward: The first-round pick will team with Jordan Matthews to give the Eagles a formidable young tandem to build around. The 6-foot, 198-pounder is a dynamite runner in the open field, which is essential to moving the chains in Chip Kelly's quick-rhythm offense. Given opportunities to make plays in space, Agholor should come up big as a rookie starter.

Washington Redskins: Matt Jones, RB


Strengths: Jones is a big-bodied runner with a rugged running style between the tackles. He runs through contact without skipping a beat, and his ability to finish with authority makes him tough to bring down over the course of a game. It's no coincidence that his best preseason plays featured him running through multiple tacklers on the second level. He possesses the size (6-2, 231 pounds), strength and explosiveness to thrive as a workhorse. Given his impressive yards-per-carry mark (6.95) on 20 rushing attempts during the preseason, Jones is clearly a dominant runner with the ball in his hands.

Weaknesses: Jones must improve as a pass blocker to carve out a role as a true three-down back. He needs to identify potential rushers and show the courage to take them down the middle. He's shown the potential to be able to hang in there and battle, but he needs to be more consistent with his approach and technique.

Expectations going forward: Jones is expected to form a "physical" tandem in the backfield with Alfred Morris, but the rookie could steal carries from the veteran as the season rolls along. The third-round pick has displayed the vision, balance and body control to be a 1,000-yard back, and he could get his chance if Morris falters.


Chicago Bears: Eddie Goldman, DT


Strengths: Goldman is a rock-solid interior defender, exceptionally strong and powerful, and nearly impossible to move off the ball. He exhibits strong hands and combat skills taking on single- and double-teams at the point of attack. The numbers won't accurately reflect his impact, but his ability to command attention at the line will play a huge role in any defensive resurgence in Chicago.

Weaknesses: Goldman is a limited pass rusher. He can push the pocket with traditional power rushes, but he lacks the savvy and finesse to slip past blockers on the way to the quarterback.

Expectations going forward: The loss of Jeremiah Ratliffto a three-game suspension opens the door for Goldman to start at nose tackle. The rookie needs to be a destructive force in the middle to create free lanes for the Bears' linebackers to control the tackle-to-tackle box. If the second-round pick grows into his role as a run stopper, Chicago's defense could improve dramatically in John Fox's first season.

Detroit Lions: Ameer Abdullah, RB


Strengths: Abdullah is a slippery back with exceptional stop-start quickness and short-area acceleration. He pinballs between defenders on inside runs or uses a dip-and-dart move to the outside to outrun pursuing tacklers to the corner. Abdullah's frenetic style can produce big plays, as evidenced by his sensational 45-yard run against the Jetsin Week 1, it is his vision, balance and body control that will enable him to produce steadily as a feature runner. Abdullah also shows strong hands and polished receiving skills as a playmaker in the passing game. He is dangerous on screens and swings.

Weaknesses: The 5-9, 205-pound Abdullah lacks the size to handle a full-time workload as a feature back, and some question his long speed as a home-run hitter. He lacks the burst to take it the distance in the open field, so plays that might have been touchdowns become 40- and 50-yard gains from extended distances.

Expectations going forward: The rookie is a dynamite change-of-pace back with big-play potential, capable of delivering explosive plays on the perimeter as a runner-receiver. However, the second-round pick has to show more consistency as a feature back. The fact that he gained just 15 yards rushing in the two games after his spectacular show against the Jets suggests he might be a "feast or famine" playmaker.

Green Bay Packers: Brett Hundley, QB


Strengths: The athletic Hundley has outstanding movement skills. He has a strong arm and capably makes throws to every area of the field, exhibiting a quick release and pinpoint ball placement on rhythm throws. Hundley repeatedly picked apart the Eaglesin Week 3 and Saintsin Week 4 with darts on slants and short crossers. He connected on a slant with Ty Montgomery for a 52-yard gain against Philly and completed a similar pass to Larry Pinkard for a 77-yard touchdown against New Orleans. The decisiveness, accuracy and precision shown on those passes reflect the rookie's growth as a playmaker in the Packers' quick-rhythm system. Most importantly, Hundley was smart with the ball, finishing the preseason with an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7:1.

Weaknesses: Hundley struggled with his timing and decision making at UCLA, resulting in a number of sacks and negative plays when he couldn't hit his primary read at the top of his drop. The fifth-round pick has made significant growth in this area in Green Bay, but he must continue to develop as a quick-rhythm passer to succeed in this timing-based offense.

Expectations going forward: Hundley will have a low-pressure opportunity to hone his skills as the QB3, which should help him work through some of the issues that plagued him in college. Given his rapid improvement as a passer under Mike McCarthy's direction, Hundley could develop into a viable starter in a few seasons.

Minnesota Vikings: Trae Waynes, CB


Strengths: This speedy, explosive press corner has outstanding physical tools. The rookie can run with swift receivers down the boundary and also flashes the quickness and agility to maintain optimal positioning on inside or out-breaking routes. Thus, he can stay with premier receivers utilizing sticky bump-and-run tactics.

Weaknesses: Waynes rarely used a backpedal at Michigan State, and the lack of technical versatility causes Waynes to struggle with some of the man and zone schemes the Vikings employ. This was apparent in the Hall of Fame game, as Waynes had difficulty staying with the Steelers' receivers due to lazy feet and questionable eye discipline, and it remains a concern, given that Waynes continued to have issues with ball awareness on vertical throws in subsequent games. Waynes also needs to watch his hands to avoid the illegal contact and defensive holding penalties that have popped up when he has been coverage.

Expectations going forward: The No. 11 overall pick will eventually crack the starting lineup, but the Vikings must make sure he is ready to handle the various technique responsibilities in coverage. From off coverage to playing the ball downfield, Waynes must be able to hold his own on the perimeter to survive on the island. He likely will get his feet wet playing in sub-packages before transitioning into a prime role down the road.


Atlanta Falcons: Vic Beasley, DE


Strengths: Beasley initially attacks blockers with a traditional speed rush or a slippery inside counter, but he also has a deadly spin move and stab maneuver in his repertoire. He gave the Jets' D'Brickashaw Ferguson fits in Week 2 and presented a challenge to the Titans' Taylor Lewanin Week 1 with his speed and quickness off the edge. Beasley didn't register a sack during the preseason, but he definitely made his presence known as a situational pass rusher.

Weaknesses: The rookie must continue to get better in run defense. He sometimes plays too high, and a lack of size and functional strength makes him a liability on the edge. The Falcons are playing around his limitations by using him as a situational rusher to start the season.

Expectations going forward: Despite playing a limited role as a rookie, the No. 8 overall pick is expected to make an immediate impact as a situational rusher off the edge.

Carolina Panthers: Corey Brown, WR


Strengths: The fast, quick Brown can blow past defenders in one-on-one coverage, making him a potent deep threat in the Panthers' ground-based attack.

Weaknesses: Brown's hands and sagging confidence are a huge concern. He dropped several passes during the preseason, including would-be touchdown catches against Miamiand New England in back-to-back games. Brown's suspect hands make it hard to envision the Panthers featuring him prominently as a WR1.

Expectations going forward: Brown will get a chance to start when the season kicks off against Jacksonville. It's hard to count on Brown making a significant contribution, based on his dismal performance in the preseason, but he remains one of the Panthers' fastest players, and his ability to get deep could enhance the passing game. If Cam Newton can get Brown untracked early this season, Brown could enhance his reputation as a big-play specialist.

New Orleans Saints: Brandin Cooks, WR


Strengths: The Saints' WR1 has all the tools needed to become a star -- speed, hands, running skills and route-running savvy -- with more experience. The second-year pro has shown flashes of brilliance this preseason, repeatedly torching opponents willing to play him with single coverage. Cooks posted a 100-yard game against the Patriots in a little over a quarter of work in Week 2; he also impressed against the Ravens in limited action in Week 1. He showed the ability to get behind the defense on a 45-yard touchdown off a clever post move against New England, and he flashed explosive running skills weaving through traffic on a nifty catch-and-run score against Baltimore. With Cooks capable of reaching the end zone from anywhere on the field, the Saints have a dynamic weapon to build around.

Weaknesses: Cooks has thrived as the Saints' WR1 this preseason, but his inability to truly play big, given that he checks in at 5-10 and 189 pounds, could be an issue.

Expectations going forward: Cooks could become the NFL's next 100-catch receiver this season. He is poised to carry the Saints' passing game as the designated playmaker, and Drew Brees will target the second-year pro early and often. If Cooks can avoid the big hits and establish enough chemistry with Brees, there's no reason to think he can't deliver a 1,500-yard campaign.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB


Strengths: Winston routinely throws receivers open with pinpoint tosses between multiple defenders on the second level. He delivered on crossing routes to Vincent Jackson at 15 to 18 yards throughout the preseason. A 22-yard scoring strike to Russell Shepard on a seam pattern against the Bengalsin Week 2 showcased his superb timing and ball placement. With Winston also showing the patience and poise to hit the second and third read in the progression, the Buccaneers' rookie quarterback is on the right track as a franchise player.

Weaknesses: Winston needs to work on ball security and decision making from the pocket. He will push the envelope by taking high-risk throws, but he has to understand when to dial it back based on circumstances. Winston also needs to work on getting the ball out of his hands more quickly, to avoid taking sacks (he had seven this preseason) behind a leaky offensive line. He needs to find a way to hit his hot routes or safety-valve receivers to avoid negative plays in the passing game.

Expectations going forward: Winston could struggle mightily behind the Buccaneers' inexperienced offensive line. The presence of a pair of rookies (Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet) could result in poor protection in the pocket, leading to hurried throws from Winston. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will attempt to protect his young passer with cleverly designed scripts, but his star pupil could turn it over a bit before finding his stride as a playmaker.


Arizona Cardinals: D.J. Humphries, OL

Grade: D

Strengths: Humphries has what he needs physically to develop into a premier left tackle. He plays light on his feet and exhibits impressive lateral quickness, yet he also possesses the strength and power to move defenders off the ball. When he's on, Humphries is capable of dominating defenders on the edge without assistance.

Weaknesses: Humphries needs to be more consistent. He struggles on the edge due to shoddy hand usage and lackluster effort. He fails to battle defenders on the edges, which is why Melvin Ingram, Khalil Mack and other high-motor rushers have had their way with him in one-on-one battles. Humphries has been overwhelmed by the speed, athleticism and intensity at the NFL level, leading the rookie to grab or hold to keep rushers at bay. Considering Humphries' mental lapses (blown assignments, false starts and holding penalties), it is hard to like anything about his game at this point.

Expectations going forward: The first-round pick has been a major disappointment for the Cardinals. He was unable to beat out Bradley Sowell to start at right tackle despite having superior athletic traits. Thus, Humphries is likely to play as a swing player and spend his rookie season developing on the practice field.

St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OL

Grade: C+

Strengths: Robinson is a rugged edge blocker with exceptional strength and power. The second-year pro moves defenders off the ball in the run game but is also athletic enough to climb to the second level. Despite the Rams' preseason struggles on the ground, Robinson shines when he is given the green light to pummel defenders at the point of attack.

Weaknesses: Robinson remains a work in progress as a pass protector. He gets out of sorts with his feet and hands in the middle of his kick-slide. This allows savvy pass rushers to put him on skates on the edges with finesse moves or counter reactions. Robinson will grab or horse-collar defenders to keep them off the quarterback, but his awkward approach leads to concerns about his ability to hold up against elite rushers when the regular season starts.

Expectations going forward: Robinson will occupy the marquee spot along the line. He spent the final half of 2014 season filling in for Jake Long at left tackle and looks more comfortable at the spot after working diligently on his technique during the offseason. Although he must continue to work on his footwork, balance and body control in pass protection, he is solid in the running game and should anchor a physical Rams' rushing attack in 2015.

San Francisco 49ers: Jarryd Hayne, RB/PR

Grade: B+

Strengths: Despite his inexperience playing American football, the dynamic returner shows great hands and ball skills. He made a series of circus catches and explosive plays in the return game throughout the preseason, including this dazzling 27-yard return. He finished the preseason with an impressive 18.1-yard average on nine punt returns. As a rusher, Haynes flashes strength and power with the ball in his hands on inside runs. Most importantly, he has vision and a natural feel for reading the defense.

Weaknesses: Hayne's unorthodox upright approach makes him susceptible to big hits in the hole, resulting in possible turnovers. Although he didn't put the ball on the ground during the preseason, ball security could be an issue when the intensity ratchets up in the regular season.

Expectations going forward: Hayne overcame long odds to make the 49ers' roster as a returner/backup runner. He has impressed so much during preseason action that he could give the 49ers a dynamic playmaker to build around in the kicking game.

Seattle Seahawks: Tyler Lockett, WR

Grade: A+

Strengths: Lockett already looks like a Pro Bowl-caliber return man, registering a 103-yard kick return score and a 67-yard punt return touchdown during the preseason. While his dazzling return skills garnered most of the headlines, it is his crafty route-running skills and playmaking ability as a WR4 that could make him a key contributor to the Seahawks' offense this season. Lockett flashes superb stop-start quickness getting in and out of his break, which makes him a nightmare to defend on double moves. In addition, Lockett displays stunning straight-line speed as a vertical route runner on the outside. He mixes clever releases and stems into his routes, allowing him to blow past defenders on go routes.

Weaknesses: Lockett's slender frame could be a problem when he faces physical corners on the edges. Aggressive defenders can knock him around a bit throughout the route to disrupt his timing and chemistry with the quarterback. While Lockett has shown throughout the preseason the ability to escape aggressive tactics, he will need to take his game up a notch when facing elite defenders during the regular season.

Expectations going forward: Lockett could blossom as the Seahawks' designated big-play threat this season. He is an explosive returner with a knack for finding creases in the coverage, but he's also adept at delivering game-changing plays in the passing game. Lockett could fill the void created by Percy Harvin's departure, giving the Seahawks a unique weapon to feature on the perimeter.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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