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AFC preseason grades: Lamar Jackson shines, Josh Allen fizzles

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 3.

Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson, QB. The football world finally got a chance to see the former Heisman Trophy winner at his best against the Dolphins. Jackson completed 7 of 10 passes for 98 yards with a touchdown and added 39 rushing yards with an additional score. The spectacular performance showcased how the Ravens could deploy the electric dual-threat playmaker in the regular season, with the team ordering up more empty formations to maximize No. 8's unique talents. With the defense forced to spread out to cover Baltimore's eligible pass catchers, Jackson exploited bigger passing windows and wider running lanes. Grade: A

Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, QB. The rookie looked like an inexperienced player in the team's dress rehearsal against the Bengals. Allen was indecisive pulling the trigger and repeatedly missed the mark when he pushed the ball down the field. The No. 7 overall pick, who completed 6 of 12 passes for just 34 yards, took five sacks, and the offense failed to score a single point under his direction. With Allen openly suggesting that the speed of the game was "eye-opening," the Bills might want to take their time before thrusting No. 17 onto the field. Grade: D

Cincinnati Bengals: John Ross, WR. Wow! That's the only word to describe Ross' spectacular 57-yard touchdown on a stop-and-go down the right sideline against the Bills. Cincy's 2017 first-round pick not only slipped past the defender on a slick double move, but he also avoided two additional defenders with a pair of ridiculous stop-start cuts in the open field. After sitting on the sidelines as a rookie due to injury, Ross has shown coaches and scouts that he is a legitimate deep threat on the outside with the speed and burst to create chunk plays for the Bengals' offense. Grade: B+

Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB. The Browns' future QB1 has been an efficient distributor throughout the preseason, and his spread-it-around approach meshes well with the team's quick-rhythm scheme. Mayfield tossed the ball well against the Eagles, using a series of quick screens, quick passes and seams to attack soft spots in coverage. The rookie did have an interception and fumbled on a sack (the Browns recovered), but he showed poise and composure in adverse conditions. Grade: B

Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton, WR. The big-bodied pass catcher is carving out a nice role as a WR3 in Denver. He is poised to earn more playing time after a three-catch, 45-yard effort that gave Broncos fans a glimpse of his potential as a jump-ball specialist on the perimeter. Sutton's 27-yard catch along the boundary, in particular, showcased his ability to ward off a defensive back on a back-shoulder fade. Grade: B+

Houston Texans: J.J. Watt, DE. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year made his return to the football field after battling with an assortment of injuries that has kept him out of action for most of the past two seasons. Watt teamed up with Jadeveon Clowney to give the Texans a ferocious pass rush and helped the defense hold the Rams to zero points when the 1s were messing around with L.A.'s backups. Although it was a lopsided matchup from a talent standpoint, the Texans' star player earned solid marks for his effort in limited action. Grade: B

Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, QB. The Colts' franchise quarterback was sharp in the team's dress rehearsal against the 49ers. Luck completed 8 of 10 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown while also adding 27 rushing yards on four scrambles. The workmanlike performance featured No. 12 delivering a number of quick-rhythm throws to his running backs, tight ends and wide receivers in the flat on a variety of catch-and-throw concepts. When the 49ers jumped the short routes and collapsed the pocket, Luck found escape routes to flee and pick up positive yardage. Although Colts officials would prefer to see Luck throw the ball away or slide before taking a big hit, the three-time Pro Bowler's decision to scramble suggests he's fully confident in his ability to withstand a shot on the perimeter. Grade: A-

Jacksonville Jaguars: Cody Kessler, QB. The third-year pro looks like a keeper as a QB2 for the Jaguars. Kessler completed 7 of 7 passes for 78 yards and added 21 rushing yards on five attempts (with a 1-yard score where he actually fumbled the snap, but picked it up and impressively barreled into the end zone). Although his numbers are a bit inflated due to the Jaguars' superb screen game, Kessler's poise, efficiency and effectiveness running the offense have been impressive throughout the preseason. Grade: B+

Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes, QB. The Chiefs' new QB1 took the team's Ferrari-like offense on an impressive spin in K.C.'s dress rehearsal against the Bears. Mahomes completed 18 of 24 passes for 196 yards and a score while throwing the ball to a handful of explosive playmakers on the perimeter. No. 15 not only displayed exceptional range and arm strength pushing the ball down the field and to the sidelines, but he showed tremendous discipline working the short and intermediate routes available against the Bears' coverage. With Mahomes content to spread the ball around to a number of pass catchers, defensive coordinators could have a tough time slowing down the Chiefs' offense with the young gunslinger at the controls. Grade: A-

Los Angeles Chargers: Derwin James, S. The Chargers' top pick already looks like an All-Pro-caliber playmaker in the middle of the secondary. James not only gives the Bolts an enforcer between the hashes, but he is a capable deep-middle defender with the range and ball skills to create turnovers. Against the Saints, he picked off an errant Drew Brees pass down the seam, exhibiting outstanding instincts, awareness and anticipation. James also added a few tackles as a sideline-to-sideline thumper with a nose for the ball. Grade: B+

Miami Dolphins: Kenyan Drake, RB. The Dolphins have found their RB1 in Drake this preseason. The third-year pro flashes hybrid potential as a runner/receiver with explosive rushing skills and dynamic pass-catching ability. Against the Ravens, Drake tallied 68 scrimmage yards on five touches (four rushes for 32 yards, one catch for 36 yards), exhibiting outstanding big-play ability in space. If the Dolphins continue to tap into Drake's versatility, the 24-year-old could join the conversation as one of the league's most dynamic running backs. Grade: A

New England Patriots: Ja'Whaun Bentley, LB. The rookie linebacker looks like a lock to make his way into the Patriots' starting lineup. Bentley finished Friday night's game against the Panthers with five tackles and showed outstanding pursuit skills hunting down ball carriers all over the field. The Purdue product not only shocks and sheds blockers like a veteran, but he displays the kind of instincts and diagnostic skills that exceeds his experience. Bentley very well could be New England's defensive play caller in Year 1 -- not bad for a fifth-round pick. Grade: B+

New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB. The Jets' probable QB1 had a solid overall outing against the Giants. Darnold quickly flipped the ball to his receivers on the perimeter on a series of quick-rhythm throws from the pocket, including his 12-yard touchdown to Terrelle Pryor on a shallow crossing route. In addition, he made a few nice throws on the run that allowed him to showcase his athleticism, mobility and roll-out throwing skills. Despite finishing the night with a 50 percent completion rate (8 of 16 for 86 yards with the aforementioned touchdown), the rookie certainly made a positive impression with his play against the G-Men. Grade: B

Oakland Raiders: Arden Key, OLB. The third-round pick has been one of the Raiders' standouts on defense throughout the preseason. Key has not only flashed the speed, quickness and burst that made him a dynamic (albeit inconsistent) defender in the SEC, but he also has shown better-than-anticipated strength and power off the edge. If Key and fellow rookie Maurice Hurst can keep generating pressure on the passer, the Raiders might be able to withstand a short-term holdout from Khalil Mack. Grade: B+

Pittsburgh Steelers: Jaylen Samuels, RB. With Le'Veon Bell staying away, the Steelers might've found another hybrid backfield weapon. Samuels displayed his versatility and explosiveness in a workmanlike performance against the Titans that resulted in him gaining 77 scrimmage yards on 15 touches (11 runs for 41 yards, four receptions for 36 yards). With Bell's status beyond this season uncertain, the emergence of another runner/receiver is encouraging. Grade: A-

Tennessee Titans: Anthony Firkser, TE. The lone bright spot on an offense that struggled to move the ball for most of the day, Firkser finished with five receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown on a 3-yard strike from Blaine Gabbert. Although the Harvard grad is in a dogfight to secure a spot on the 53-man roster, Firkser certainly helped his chances with a solid outing against the Steelers. Grade: B

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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