Week 1 preseason grades: Dak Prescott leads NFC rookies

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.

This week, we examine a key rookie from each team in the NFL, including the NFC below.


DALLAS COWBOYS: Dak Prescott, quarterback. It's too early to anoint any quarterback a future star in the league, but Prescott definitely deserves props for his sensational performance against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday. The fourth-round pick showed exceptional poise and composure directing the Cowboys' offense to 17 points on three scoring drives while completing 10 of 12 passes for 139 yards. Prescott not only delivered "dimes" to receivers on the perimeter (see: Terrance Williams' 32-yard touchdown), but he showed terrific anticipation, accuracy and ball placement on a pairof back-shoulder throws to Dez Bryant along the boundary. With Prescott also demonstrating outstanding passing skills on the move, the Cowboys' young QB showed team officials that he could be a solid option as a QB2 behind Tony Romo. GRADE: A+

NEW YORK GIANTS: Sterling Shepard, wide receiver. Although his preseason debut against the Dolphins on Friday was cut short by a groin injury, Shepard flashed the route-running skills and sticky hands that have made him one of the NFL's biggest offseason stars. He came up with a spectacular 24-yard catch in the first quarter that showcased his athleticism, concentration and awareness. The second-round pick missed out on a few more big-play chances when his quarterback (Ryan Nassib) misfired on a couple of downfield tosses. With more time with Eli Manning on the horizon, Shepard could validate the buzz building about his talent and potential early in the season. GRADE: B

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Carson Wentz, quarterback. The second overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft teased Eagles fans with a debut performance against the Bucs that showcased his diverse skills as an electric playmaker. Although he was far from perfect, Wentz flashed outstanding arm strength, touch and accuracy when firing passes both from the pocket (if Eagles receivers hadn't dropped three of his passes, his numbers would've looked better) and on the move (during impromptu scrambles). In addition, he displayed the athleticism and movement skills that made him a legitimate dual threat at North Dakota State. Yes, he tossed a costly red-zone interception. He also suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs that has the rest of his preseason up in the air. But the bottom line is, on Thursday, Wentz showed patience, poise and judgment throughout the game while dealing with big hits and free rushers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' front line. GRADE: B-

WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Su'a Cravens, linebacker. Cravens' potential impact as a hybrid defender (linebacker/safety) made him a top priority for the Redskins on draft day. The ex-USC standout immediately flashed his disruptive potential with a superb effort in his preseason debut against the Falcons on Thursday. The second-round pick notched three tackles (two for loss) and a pass breakup while wreaking havoc on Atlanta's offense as a sideline-to-sideline menace. GRADE: B+


CHICAGO BEARS: Leonard Floyd, outside linebacker. The Bears are counting on the ultra-athletic Floyd to add some juice to the pass rush off the edge. Despite his best attempts against the Denver Broncos on Thursday, the ninth overall pick was unable to get home, as veteran blockers sniffed out his moves and forced a stalemate at the line. Although Floyd did show up against the run as a "chase-down" player from the backside (see: his tackle holding Devontae Booker to a 3-yard gain), the Bears need him to be a bigger factor against the pass to hold up in a division stacked with talented quarterbacks. GRADE: C+

DETROIT LIONS: Taylor Decker, offensive tackle. The 16th overall pick faced a rough baptism by fire against the Pittsburgh Steelers and James Harrison on Friday. Decker committed a holding penalty and surrendered a sack-forced fumble to the former Defensive Player of the Year on consecutive plays. Yes, even veteran pass blockers struggle against the feisty pass rusher -- but still, Harrison's flawless execution of a "dip and rip" maneuver exposed a potential balance and body control issue with Decker. As a tall player (6-foot-7, 310 pounds) with a tendency to play too high, he must work on playing lower to neutralize the elite rushers he'll face on the Lions' schedule. Grade: C

GREEN BAY PACKERS: Blake Martinez, inside linebacker.Against the Browns on Friday, the fourth-round pick showed he was more than capable of manning the middle of coordinator Dom Capers' defense. Martinez showed outstanding instincts and awareness floating between the tackles as a designated hitter. Most impressively, he flashed pass-rush skills (registering a QB knockdown on Robert Griffin III in the first quarter) and adequate coverage ability on passing downs. Martinez's solid debut performance should encourage team officials that the ex-Stanford standout -- a potential starter on a team with championship aspirations -- is ready for the job. GRADE: B

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Laquon Treadwell, wide receiver. The Vikings' soon-to-be WR1 is exactly what the team needs on the perimeter. As a big-bodied (6-2, 215 pounds) playmaker with strong hands and superb ball skills, the 23rd overall pick is a natural "chain mover" capable of doing all of the dirty work between the hashes. He posted a team-high four receptions for 41 yards against the Bengals, including an 18-yard catch on a dig route that should become the team's bread-and-butter passing play when Treadwell -- who did not start on Friday -- settles in as a starter down the road. GRADE: B


ATLANTA FALCONS: Deion Jones, linebacker. Coach Dan Quinn added Jones, a second-round pick, to inject some speed and athleticism to the Falcons' defense. The rookie flashed big-time speed and quickness flowing from sideline to sideline, finishing Thursday's game against the Redskins with five tackles and a pass breakup. Most impressively, Jones looks like a tone-setter in the middle of the retooled defense. GRADE: B

CAROLINA PANTHERS: James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, cornerbacks. It's impossible to mention one of these rookies without discussing the other, so I will give the Panthers' pair of newbie corners a collective review. As likely starters on the outside, Bradberry (a second-round pick) and Worley (a third-rounder) will be tested early and often by experienced quarterbacks looking for offense-igniting quick strikes. Each guy fared well under fire against the Ravens on Thursday, exhibiting disciplined eyes and solid footwork in coverage. They kept the ball in front of the defense and avoided the unnecessary gambles that typically lead to big plays for the offense. Overall, it was a winning performance from a pair of youngsters expected to man key roles on one of the NFL's top defenses. GRADE: B

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Mike Thomas, wide receiver. There has been plenty of hype surrounding Thomas' potential as a WR2 since his arrival in New Orleans as a second-round pick. The 6-3, 212-pound rookie definitely didn't disappoint in his debut performance against the Patriots on Thursday, posting four catches for 67 yards, including a pair ofacrobatic grabs that showcased his ball skills and body control. Thomas' combination of size, athleticism and ball skills expands the strike zone for the quarterback and makes life easier for Drew Brees in the passing game. GRADE: A-

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Noah Spence, defensive end. The energetic edge rusher didn't register a sack, but the second-round pick played a key role on a defensive line that registered four sacks against Philadelphia on Thursday. As part of the Buccaneers' first-string nickel package, Spence exhibited outstanding first-step quickness and burst while hounding the quarterback off the edge. Most impressively, he displayed the agility and hand skills to win at the line and create the kind of disruption that could make him a 10-plus sack guy down the road. GRADE: B+


ARIZONA CARDINALS: Brandon Williams, cornerback. The rookie corner is slated to start the season as the CB2 opposite Patrick Peterson, so his preseason performance is significant to a defense that ranks as one of the NFL's elite. Williams got off to a rough start against the Oakland Raiders on Friday, surrendering a 16-yard catch to Michael Crabtree and losing leverage on a couple of deep-ball attempts that would've resulted in touchdowns if the ball had been on target. Later, Williams surrendered a touchdown to Andre Holmes despite having tight coverage on the lanky receiver. To his credit, the third-round pick continued to battle and showed a competitive streak that will help him hold up as a young starter, but he must refine his footwork and technique throughout the offseason to survive the barrage of throws heading in his direction. GRADE: C+

LOS ANGELES RAMS: Jared Goff, quarterback. The Rams' franchise quarterback delivered mixed results in his first game in front of the home fans Saturday. The No. 1 overall pick certainly flashed some of the traits (size, arm strength, touch and anticipation) that are expected of a QB1, but he also delivered some of the mistakes (an interception and a sack) that typically accompany young quarterback play. None of Goff's miscues are necessarily glaring, based on his transition from a spread offense to a pro-style scheme. His performance simply suggests he needs more time and reps before ascending to the top spot for the Rams. GRADE: C+

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: DeForest Buckner, defensive end. The long, rangy defender didn't make an immediate impact on the 49ers' defense, but he showed flashes of being a solid cog in the wheel for the team's front line against the Texans on Sunday. The seventh overall pick battled at the line of scrimmage against the run on the way to notching three tackles on the day. He needs to play with a lower pad level to avoid getting pushed around at the point of attack, but he can build off a solid debut performance to grow into his role as a contributor. GRADE: B

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Trevone Boykin, quarterback. The ex-TCU standout might be the Seahawks' next great UDFA (undrafted free agent) discovery after flashing the arm talent, athleticism and poise to make plays as a potential QB2. Boykin finished Saturday night completing 16 of 26 passes for 188 yards against the Chiefs, including a 37-yard Hail Mary to Tanner McEvoy as the clock expired. Although his stat line looks impressive at first glance, he didn't get going until his final drive (Boykin completed only 10 of 18 passes for 66 yards in his first five drives before finding his rhythm when he re-entered the game in the fourth quarter). The slow start could lead to questions about his readiness for the role. However, after engineering a game-winning drive on the strength of his playmaking skills as a dual threat, Boykin should've piqued the interest of Pete Carroll and his staff as a developmental prospect. GRADE: B

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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