By now, you've probably heard all about how the third week of the preseason is the dress rehearsal for NFL teams -- especially since we won't see much of the starters in the final tune-up before the regular season begins. So it means one last real chance to figure out which individual defensive players are on their way up or down before Week 1 kicks in.
Corey Liuget, DL, San Diego Chargers: Liuget's numbers dipped a bit in 2013, but he proved to be a monster against the 49ers offense on Sunday. The Chargers are in need of a consistent pass rush after finishing in the bottom third of the league in sacks last season. Look for defensive coordinator John Pagano to find new ways to turn the defensive end loose on opponents this season.
Brandon Graham, LB, Philadelphia Eagles: As a group, the Eagles linebackers weren't a particularly strong unit. However Graham was a bright spot in that crowd and appears ready to take another step forward this season. While he has struggled in pass coverage, Graham has been a beast when it comes to rushing the passer and has notched a sack in each of Philly's last two games. In a division as quarterback-centric as the NFC East, Graham should have plenty of chances to get after the passer.
Will Davis, DB, Miami Dolphins: Davis had a tough outing against the Cowboys last weekend, but overall his preseason has been strong. That's enough of a reason for the Dolphins coaching staff to consider the second-year cornerback as part of the team's nickel package. During the preseason, opponents have completed just one-third of the passes thrown in Davis' direction which includes four pass deflections. Davis could be an up-and-comer amidst an aging group of corners.
Kyle Wilson, DB, New York Jets: The Jets secondary is in disarray. Dee Milliner is dealing with a high ankle sprain and Dimitri Patterson is suspended indefinitely after being mysteriously absent over the weekend. That puts Wilson front and center at one of Gang Green's cornerback spots. His returns during the preseason have gotten progressively worse which bodes poorly in a schedule that begins with a lot of pass-heavy offenses.
Antoine Cason, DB, Carolina Panthers: IDP owners should have similar concerns about Cason who is expected to take over for Captain Munnerlyn in Carolina's secondary. Opposing quarterbacks have completed better than 75 percent of the throws in Cason's direction this preseason. With two games apiece this season against the Saints and Falcons, Cason could be in for a frustrating season.
Barkevious Mingo, LB, Cleveland Browns: Despite having arguably the best name in the NFL, Mingo's on-field production has left a lot to be desired this preseason. The Browns linebacker hasn't been much of a presence in pass coverage and has been even less effective as a run stopper. His mediocre performance as a pass rusher in these early games isn't enough to make up for his deficiencies in other areas.
» The Packers have lost their big man in the middle. B.J. Raji is out for the season with a torn biceps suffered in Friday's preseason win over the Raiders. Like most nose tackles, Raji wasn't a fantasy monster. However, his ability to occupy interior linemen made life easier for Green Bay's pass rushers. We'll see if Josh Boyd, who is being tabbed to take Raji's place, can create the same type of matchup problems.
» Tyrann Mathieu's season ended in early December with a devastating knee injury. Now the Cardinals defensive back is making a push to be back in action for the season opener. First, he'll need to make an appearance in Arizona's final preseason game. Mathieu was having a very productive rookie season before the injury put him on the shelf. It's worth exercising caution before grabbing him in any IDP drafts this season.
» The aforementioned Dee Milliner is still working through his high ankle sprain and his status for the Jets' season opener is up in the air. Milliner might consider himself the best corner in the league, although the numbers from last season disagree mightily. The bigger impact could come at the safety spot. Neither Antonio Allen nor Dawan Landry were great -- they won't get any better with Gang Green rolling with reserves at the two starting corner spots.
» After suffering a hit to the neck and back, Oakland Raiders linebacker Sio Moore was able to fly home with the team. As a rookie in 2013, Moore was second on the team in sacks and ninth in tackles. With this year's first round pick, Khalil Mack expected to occupy offensive lineman on the pass rush a healthy Moore could put up surprising numbers attacking quarterbacks on the other side.