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AFC preseason grades: Patrick Mahomes, Dede Westbrook excel

Final scores might not matter in the preseason, but individual performances sure do. Careers can be made, opportunities can be seized and depth charts can be decided in the exhibition contests leading up to the first kickoff that counts. 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 for Week 2:


Taquan Mizzell, RB: Mizzell, who went undrafted in April, could be the latest Raven to rise from obscurity and become a key contributor. The Virginia product showed scouts he could thrive as a triple-threat playmaker (runner/receiver/returner) against the Dolphins last Thursday, tallying 62 scrimmage yards and adding another 17 yards in the return game. With the Ravens in need of a complementary back following Kenneth Dixon's season-ending injury, Mizzell's versatility in a strong performance could earn him a spot on the 53-man roster. Grade: B


Zay Jones, WR: Few expected the second-rounder to occupy the WR1 role as a first-year starter, but the recent trade of Sammy Watkins could make Jones the top option in the passing game. Against the Eagles, he looked comfortable as top dog, exhibiting superb polish as a route runner, along with sticky hands. Jones' acrobatic catch along the sideline showcased his ball skills and ballerina-like footwork. Grade: B


Jordan Willis, DE: The energetic pass rusher might've been the lone bright spot in the Bengals' disappointing outing vs. Kansas City. Willis collected his second sack of the preseason and continues to impress with his blue-collar approach off the edge. Given how Cincy is looking for a young pass rusher to throw into the mix, Willis' production and pass-rushing prowess could earn him a spot as the DE3. Grade: B


DeShone Kizer, QB: The rookie didn't necessarily win the QB1 job with his solid performance, but he definitely showed team officials that he is capable of putting points on the board as the leader of the offense. Kizer completed eight of his 13 passes for 74 yards, adding another 35 yards and a score on the ground. Although he took a few sacks and had a couple of misfires -- including a narrowly missed, long would-be scoring strike to David Njoku -- the rookie flashes more potential than any other quarterback on the roster. Grade: B


Garett Bolles, OT: The Broncos' top draft pick was expected to help shore up their O-line woes, but he contributed to the unit's struggles with three holding penalties and a false start in the first half. While most rookies need some time to acclimate to the speed of the pro game, Bolles' flag-happy play is a huge concern for Denver heading into the regular season. Grade: D


Deshaun Watson, QB: Despite failing to close ground on Tom Savage in the race for the Texans' QB1 job, the rookie still flashed enough playmaking ability to keep the pressure on the veteran. Watson scored on a nifty 2-yard scamper that showcased his stop-start quickness and elusiveness, but he couldn't find his rhythm from the pocket. (In his defense, a few drops didn't help matters.) Grade: B-


Marlon Mack, RB: The rookie runner might add some sizzle to the lineup as a complementary back, based on his strong debut performance at Dallas. Mack showed outstanding stop-start quickness, burst and acceleration in a five-carry, 45-yard rushing effort that included an electric 23-yard run. With the rookie also showcasing sticky hands and fine route-running skills (two catches for 14 yards), Mack will continue to rise up the depth chart as a potential RB1 with big-play potential. Grade: B+


Dede Westbrook, WR: The Jaguars might've landed one of the draft's biggest steals in Westbrook. The fourth-round pick displayed outstanding route-running skills and hands during a six-catch, 131-yard performance vs. Tampa Bay that could earn him a bigger role in the rotation as a possible No. 3 receiver in spread sets. Grade: A


Patrick Mahomes, QB: The dual-threat playmaker is certainly impressive playing on the edges, but it has been his exceptional efficiency and effectiveness from the pocket that has earned him rave reviews this preseason. In completing 10 of his 14 passes for 88 yards and two scores in Cincy, Mahomes displayed outstanding timing and anticipation on a variety of quick-rhythm routes, also showcasing athleticism and improvisational skills. Although he still needs to rein in some of his gunslinging ways, the Chiefs' QB of the future is developing ahead of schedule. Grade: A


Desmond King, S: The former college corner is quickly becoming a playmaking safety for the Bolts. King recorded two tackles, a sack and a pass breakup vs. New Orleans on Sunday, as the Chargers moved him around a bit to put him closer to the action. With King snagging a pick in Week 1 and showing promise as a designated playmaker in Week 2, the rookie could emerge as a valuable Swiss Army Knife in the back end. Grade: B+


Charles Harris, DE: The Dolphins' top draft pick was expected to add some sizzle to the pass rush, but he needs to be sturdier in the run game to work his way into the starting lineup. Harris didn't consistently set the edge against the Ravens, leading to a pair of big runs around the corner. Although one was nullified due to a holding call, Harris' deficiencies against the run showed up on tape. Grade: C


Rex Burkhead, RB: The fifth-year pro showed the football world that he might be a wild-card contributor as a hybrid playmaker out of the backfield. Burkhead totaled 70 scrimmage yards on 10 touches (seven rushes, three receptions) in Houston, exhibiting quick feet and shifty hips in the open field. He torched an overmatched Texans' linebacker (Zach Cunningham) on an option route out of the backfield that resulted in a 22-yard score. Grade: B+


Christian Hackenberg, QB: After earning a surprising start following a solid Week 1 performance, Hackenberg likely blew his chance to win the QB1 job with a dismal showing at Detroit. He completed just two of his six passes for 14 yards and only led the Jets past the 50-yard line once in five drives. The second-year pro was unable to complete throws against tight coverage or counter quickly against blitzes. Discouraging stuff. Grade: C-


Marquel Lee, LB: The rookie linebacker didn't impress while running with the first team. Lee couldn't find his way to the ball and his tardiness was one of the reasons why the Raiders looked soft in the middle against the Rams. While Lee deserves credit for making his mark on special teams, the former Wake Forest standout will need a better effort during his next outing to secure a spot as the No. 1 MLB. Grade: C+


James Conner, RB: The rookie isn't Le'Veon Bell -- who is? -- but his strong debut performance vs. Atlanta suggests that he could be a capable fill-in. Conner nearly notched a 100-yard game (20 carries for 98 yards) in his first preseason appearance, while displaying a patient running style that showcased his unique combination of strength, power and body control. Although he came up short as a receiver (too many drops), Conner's big game is an encouraging sign for a team waiting for its star runner to report for duty. Grade: A-


Adoree' Jackson, CB/PR: The spectacular playmaker teased Titans followers with a sensational 63-yard punt return that was nullified by a penalty. Although the impressive jaunt didn't officially count on the stat sheet, Jackson's big-play potential is exactly what the Titans need in the return game. Jackson also had a solid outing on defense, with a pair of tackles and sticky coverage. Grade: B+

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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