Reading the Defense: Five IDP breakout candidates

So far this preseason, we've talked IDP sleepers and we've thrown out a few potential IDP busts. But like all great franchises, we need to find a positive way to end this trilogy. So where better to go than listing a few IDP breakout candidates? Maybe you're already considering drafting one of more of these players for your fantasy football squad. In this case, you might just have a little more reason to target them just a touch earlier.

Khalil Mack, DL, Oakland Raiders: The former No. 5 overall pick started to come on strong at the end of last season. So far in this preseason, the newly-minted defensive lineman has proven to be a terror for opposing offenses. Mack posted one of the top individual defensive performances of the preseason by repeatedly running over blockers on his way to the quarterback. Paired up with veteran pass rusher Justin Tuck along the Raiders defensive line, Mack should reach double-digit sacks and put his name on the map among some of the top emerging pass rushers in the league.

T.J. McDonald, DB, St. Louis Rams: After having his rookie season cut short by injury, McDonald began to show his true potential last season. The USC product nearly doubled his tackles while logging a pick and a pair of sacks. If the Rams front seven can get off to a faster start this season (they recorded just two sacks in their first five games in 2014), that should give McDonald more freedom to be a ball hawk in the secondary. With his abilities as a tackler and in run support, an increase in picks could make him a bona fide IDP standout.

Dont'a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots: Hightower has been on the verge of stardom for a couple of seasons now. It appeared that he was set for a breakout last season; Hightower set a career-high in sacks (6) and was on his way to setting a new career-best in tackles but was derailed by a series of injuries that limited him to 12 games. The bad news is that Hightower has had a long recovery from a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 13. The good news is that he was back on the field last week for New England's third preseason game. If Hightower can get healthy early in the season, this could be the year he finally reaches his true potential.

DeMarcus Lawrence, DL, Dallas Cowboys: Lawrence wasn't much of a factor in his rookie season, appearing in just seven games and recording a mere nine tackles. But this season, there is plenty of opportunity ahead of the former Boise State standout. He's moved ahead of Jeremy Mincey on the Cowboys depth chart and will be asked to do a lot in the absence of Greg Hardy (suspended for the first four games). Thanks to his work in camp, Lawrence has earned the nickname "Deac", as in late Hall of Famer Deacon Jones. We're not going so far as to make that comparison, but it is encouraging as to what Lawrence might be able to do on the field.

Rahim Moore, DB, Houston Texans: Moore might forever be remembered for whiffing on the touchdown pass that helped the Baltimore Ravens advance one step closer to a Super Bowl title in 2013. But he's much more than that. The former Broncos safety posted arguably his best professional season in 2014 with a career-high four interceptions. Now he moves to a Houston secondary that could do big things -- especially with the group up front putting pressure on quarterbacks. This could be the season that makes you forget about Moore's blunder. Until jerks like me bring it up again.

Four downs

» After missing more than a year and half because of a horrific knee injury, NaVorro Bowman looks like he's returned to form. Last week, we wrote about Bowman making three tackles in the only three snaps he played. This week, Bowman continued to impress. The veteran linebacker saw extended action in San Francisco's loss to the Denver Broncos and continued to make plays. Bowman recorded a game-high nine tackles and a pair of sacks. It looks like the Penn State product keeps getting stronger, which bodes well for his fantasy prospects.

» Good news for the Detroit Lions; it looks like Haloti Ngata will be back in time for the regular season opener. The big defensive tackle was acquired in an offseason trade but missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury. While defensive tackles generally aren't super productive for IDP managers, his ability to clog the middle of the line could open things up for Ziggy Ansah to rush the quarterback off the edge.

» Who says you can't go home again? After being released by the Houston Texans, veteran safety Stevie Brownsigned with the Giants. Brown spent three seasons with Big Blue, although he missed the entirety of the 2013 campaign with a knee injury. At the moment, Brown is buried on the depth chart, although his familiarity with the scheme should help him move up quickly. Still, this is a move made mostly for depth and isn't likely to have a major impact on fantasy rosters.

» Plenty of eyes are on veteran cornerback Tim Jennings. After a down year in the Bears secondary in 2014, he was released. Now it appears that Jennings could reunite with former coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. While Jennings doesn't look like the same player who was a top 20 IDP defensive back in 2012, the Buccaneers are in desperate need of playmakers in the secondary. There might be a chance for Jennings to resurrect his career in Florida.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarcasG.

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