Morgan Burnett, S, GB - The Packers didn't trade up in the 3rd round of the 2010 Draft for Burnett to sit on the bench. Of course, their ideal version of Burnett starting didn't involve strong safety Atari Bigby wrecking his ankle. Bigby recently had surgery on the ankle for the second time in 19 months, and there's a good chance he'll miss at least the season opener. Despite Bigby's playmaking ability, his recklessness left the Packers looking for a replacement. Getting the next four weeks of practice reps and the first game of the season at the starting strong safety spot is a nice chance for Burnett to demonstrate that they've found one. Burnett had 178 tackles and 11 interceptions in his last 27 games at Georgia Tech.
Chris Gocong, LB, CLE - With D'Qwell Jackson missing the next 3-to-8 weeks with a pectoral injury, the Browns will lose their top tackler for potentially the first few weeks of the season. Gocong was expected to start alongside Jackson as an inside linebacker in Cleveland's 3-4 even before the injury, so it seems like a good bet that he'll be picking up some of the slack. Look for Gocong to put up nice tackle numbers even after Jackson's return, because the Browns defense is going to be spending just about the whole season on the field.
Rocky McIntosh, LB, WAS - McIntosh has always been a very solid linebacker for the Redskins, but he has the athleticism to do more. Washington's transition to the 3-4 defense might be the prompt necessary to make McIntosh put up the bigger numbers of which he's always been capable. London Fletcher will get the majority of the tackles, but playing in the middle of the field will bring McIntosh closer to the point of attack than he's been in the past, and it wouldn't be surprising if he put up 120 or more tackles this year.
Sean Weatherspoon, LB, ATL - Weatherspoon's role for 2010 still hasn't been determined, but he's been practicing with the first-team lately and he's likely to be productive if he can just hold onto that role. He posted 266 tackles in his last two seasons at Missouri, so he figures to be a tackling machine whenever he can get either Mike Peterson or Stephen Nicholas on the sideline.
Rennie Curran, LB, TEN - Curran is very undersized at 5-11 or so and around 230 pounds, but his instincts and motor may have been unmatched by his counterparts in the 2010 NFL Draft. He averaged over 10 tackles per game in his last season at Georgia, and he has an outside shot at producing nice IDP numbers as soon as this year. Expected outside linebacker starter David Thornton (shoulder) is iffy to start the season and Gerald McRath, another outside linebacker, is suspended for the first four games. Of course, Will Witherspoon is around and McRath is a future starter for this team, but Thornton is probably average at best and Witherspoon is little more than a journeyman. Expect Curran to be a special teamer for the most part in 2010, but he has long-term value in IDP keeper leagues.
D'Qwell Jackson, LB, CLE - It's not as if his job will be in jeopardy upon his return, but a 3-to-8 week injury isn't something you can just shrug off. Plus, the fact that he's had chest muscle issues in the past indicates that this may be a developing tendency for Jackson. Still, he seems like an excellent bet to make it to the 100-tackle mark, even if he's out for the long end of that prognosis.
Atari Bigby, S, GB - Unlike Jackson, Bigby's job security could be in question when he's healthy. Burnett is only a rookie, but he has a far better pedigree than Bigby does. Although he fell to the 3rd round, Burnett would have been a 2nd rounder in most drafts, as the last one was unusually talented. The key issue will be how Burnett performs in practice and in Bigby's place during Week 1. If Burnett struggles, Bigby will probably be handed the spot again. If Burnett does well, a rotation might be the best-case scenario for Bigby.
Everette Brown, DE, CAR - Many figured Brown was a steal in the 2nd round of the 2009 Draft, but it's looking more and more that he was just badly overrated to begin with. Brown is plagued with a tiny frame, making it hard for him to build strength and disengage from blockers, and he lacks the exceptional athleticism necessary to make up for it. The Florida State defense has an extremely long history of creating one-dimensional pass rushers who don't translate well into the NFL level, and it's looking like Brown might add another to the tally. It's been Tyler Brayton, Greg Hardy and Eric Norwood, not Brown, who have stood out as pass rushers for Carolina, and that's not even considering the threat Charles Johnson poses to his playing time.
Darryl Tapp, DE, PHI - When the Eagles made a trade to land Tapp from the Seahawks, many assumed he'd be a starter in Philadelphia. Look for that to be the case for no longer than the first month of the season. The Eagles gave up two 3rd-rounders to trade up for Brandon Graham, one of the best defensive end prospects in some time. Tapp won't be able to hold him off, and that's all there is to say.
Rey Maualuga, LB, CIN - Maualuga is obviously an excellent athlete, but his durability has once again come into question recently. Since going in the second round of the 2009 Draft, Maualuga had dealt with hamstring, knee, foot and ankle injuries at various points, and on August 3rd, another hamstring problem came up. Maualuga suited up for Cincinnati's preseason game against Denver, so we know he can play with pain, but you don't really want to see your players playing through pain quite as often as he seems to.