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NFC preseason grades: Christian McCaffrey shines in Week 1

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 NFC player grades following Week 1:


Robert Nkemdiche, DT: It took a full year for the light to come on, but the 2016 first-rounder is starting to play like the disruptive force who teased scouts during his time at Ole Miss. The ultra-athletic defensive tackle not only displayed impressive first-step quickness shooting gaps to get into the backfield against the Raiders, but he also flashed outstanding strength and power bullying blockers at the point of attack on the way to three tackles, including one on a key third-down stop. If he continues to build upon his strong start in camp, Nkemdiche could emerge as the team's star on the front line. Grade: A-


Duke Riley, OLB: There was a lot to like about Riley's strong performance on defense and special teams against Miami. The rookie was all over the place as a two-phase standout on the way to collecting five total tackles (four on defense, one on special teams). With Riley looking comfortable and settled at weak-side linebacker while also making key contributions on the Falcons' kick-coverage teams, it looks like the ex-LSU star is poised to have a big year in The A. Grade: B+


Christian McCaffrey, RB: The Panthers didn't fully show off their shiny new toy against the Texans, but it's easy to see why team officials are excited about McCaffrey's potential after watching him pick up 33 rushing yards on seven carries. McCaffrey repeatedly found creases on inside runs, exhibiting exceptional balance, body control and pitter-pat between the tackles. With the diminutive McCaffrey (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) flashing potential as a power runner, he could see more playing time on early downs and make an even bigger impact than some might imagine. Grade: B+


Mitchell Trubisky, QB: The rookie quarterback might force coach John Fox to reconsider his stance on the team's QB situation. Trubisky immediately sparked the offense when he entered the game, completing 18 of 25 passes for 166 yards and a score against Denver. He displayed the full arsenal of a QB1, exhibiting outstanding touch, timing and anticipation on quick-rhythm throws. In addition, Trubisky flashed impressive athleticism and mobile playmaking ability on a handful of bootlegs to his right and left. Considering how well the rookie performed in his debut against the Broncos' backups, he could make a move up the depth chart sooner than expected. Grade: A


Taco Charlton, DE: The long, athletic edge defender certainly made his mark as a disruptive force against the Rams. He collected three tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry and a sack, while displaying strength, power and combat skills that could make him a difference-maker on a front line in desperate need of a star. While reports regarding his training camp struggles have led some to question his impact potential as a rookie, Charlton's splashy performance on Saturday night should silence the naysayers for at least a week. Grade: A


Kenny Golladay, WR: The star of Lions training camp announced his arrival as a possible key contributor with his two-touchdown effort against Indianapolis. A big-bodied playmaker with strong hands and sneaky running skills, Golladay has worked his way into consideration as a WR3. If he can continue to come up with big plays on the outside, Golladay could be the ideal complement to Golden Tate and Marvin Jones in the aerial attack. Grade: A-


Kevin King, CB: The long, rangy cover corner had an up-and-down performance against Philadelphia. He gave up a 38-yard touchdown when he lost contact with his receiver and missed a tackle, but he came back strong after that, collecting four defensive tackles (plus one on special teams) and providing sticky coverage for the rest of the night. Given his overall toughness, cover skills and gritty mentality, the Packers' new CB has the right stuff to be a standout on the island. Grade: B-


Cooper Kupp, WR: The rookie pass catcher is as polished as they come at the position. He is a smooth route runner with outstanding hands and ball skills and a high football IQ. Kupp showcased those skills against Dallas, finishing with two receptions for 35 yards and a score (on a fumble recovery). He easily separated from coverage on each of his receptions and showed outstanding awareness falling on a loose ball in the end zone. Grade: B


Dalvin Cook, RB: Despite his limited production on the ground, Cook was fairly impressive as a playmaker for the Vikings in his debut against the Bills. He snagged four passes for 30 yards on an assortment of dump-offs and slip-screens that allowed him to work in space. Although he was held to 13 rushing yards on five carries, Cook's ability to contribute to the passing game will make him a valuable asset going forward. Grade: B


Alvin Kamara, RB: It didn't take long for Kamara to make his mark as a big-play specialist for the Saints. The rookie popped a pair of explosive runs (10-plus yards) in four rushing attempts against the Browns and finished the night with 35 rushing yards. Although he didn't touch the ball in the passing game, Kamara flashed enough wiggle and explosiveness as an open-field runner (SEE: his 22-yard run) to highlight his potential as a home-run threat. Grade: A-


Dalvin Tomlinson, DT: The active interior defender was a terror for the Giantsagainst Pittsburgh. He showed explosive strength, power and active hands tossing around blockers on the way to collecting four tackles in limited action. Tomlinson's activity pops on tape, and it should encourage the Giants' defensive staff to pencil him in as a first-teamer on running downs. Grade: B+


Derek Barnett, DE: The rookie pass rusher quickly made his presence felt as a disruptive defender off the edge. Barnett showed impressive hand skills and closing quickness collecting a pair of sacks against the Packers. On his first sack, in particular, he used a powerful two-hand swipe to slip inside and take down the quarterback. Grade: A


C.J. Beathard, QB: The 49ers' surprising third-round selection is making new coach Kyle Shanahan look good with his promising play on the field. The rookie completed seven of his 11 passes for 101 yards and a pair of scores against the Chiefs, including a 46-yard strike to Kendrick Bourne that highlighted his poise and pocket presence. With Beathard also displaying good touch, timing and anticipation on short and intermediate throws, the rookie could wrestle away the QB2 job away from Matt Barkley by the end of the preseason. Grade: B


Trevone Boykin, QB: The Seahawks' QB2 might be the ultimate gamer after a fine performance in the preseason opener against the Chargers following a shaky set of training camp practices. Boykin connected on 12 of 15 passes for 189 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran four times for 31 yards and a score while displaying exceptional quickness and elusiveness outside the pocket. Although Boykin got away with a few risky throws along the boundary, he showed improved pocket poise and awareness while directing the Seahawks' offensive explosion in his two quarters of action. Grade: B+


Vernon Hargreaves, CB: The second-year pro flashed Pro Bowl potential during the Bucs' preseason opener against the Bengals. He made a spectacular interception near the goal line and registered a PBU on a key third down. With Hargreaves looking more comfortable on the island, defensive coordinator Mike Smith could be more aggressive with his play calls this season. Grade: A


Samaje Perine, RB: The fourth-round pick was expected to add some "pop" to the Redskins' running game as a powerful, downhill runner with size and a rugged running style. Perine was a mild disappointment against Baltimore, rushing for just 15 yards on six carries, with most of those yards coming on an 11-yard rumble around the corner. With Perine looking hesitant and indecisive toting the rock and attacking rushers in pass protection, the Redskins might be more comfortable with Rob Kelley installed as the lead back. Grade: C

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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