Stephone Anthony, (3-4) ILB, NO
Teams don't draft players in the first round with the intention of leaving them on the bench, but not all first-round picks catch on as quickly as Anthony has, either. The supremely athletic rookie from Clemson is poised to be New Orleans' top inside linebacker in 2015 and, regardless of how effective he might be in real-life terms, he has the athleticism and skillset to post useful numbers in the tackle, sack and interception categories. At 6-foot-3, 243, Anthony boasts 4.56-speed and elite lower-body explosiveness (37-inch vertical, 122-inch broad jump). Rob Ryan's presence is probably another plus for a high-upside prospect like Anthony.
Walter Thurmond, S, PHI
Thurmond was originally a cornerback -- with great ballhawking ability, at that -- but he'll likely start at safety for the Eagles this year. Moving to safety should increase his tackle production, and playing over the top could also afford him more interception opportunities. Injuries have been a consistent problem for Thurmond in his NFL career, however, with pectoral, hamstring and ankle issues combining to sideline Thurmond for 44 games in five seasons. Thurmond's injury history concerns are compounded by his lack of size (5-11, 190), but he's still worth a gamble due to his high tackle/interception upside.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, NYG
Lingering concerns over hip surgery are likely what pushed Odighizuwa to the third round of the 2015 draft, because his film, workouts and production at UCLA were first-round quality. Jason Pierre-Paul's prolonged absence has opened an opportunity for Odighizuwa, who has earned praise for his performances thus far. Although Odighizuwa won't bend the edge much, he's a force at the point of attack and should be an active tackler. At 6-3, 267, Odighizuwa possesses 4.62-speed and remarkable jump numbers (39-inch vertical, 127-inch broad jump), giving him good explosiveness off the snap and the ability to pursue almost sideline to sideline. If Pierre-Paul misses time, Odighizuwa could emerge as the Giants' most productive lineman.
Ryan Shazier, (3-4) ILB, PIT
We've always been high on Shazier for 2015, projecting him as a top-20 linebacker, but his upside was always that of a top-five linebacker. Injuries derailed his rookie season, however, with an ankle sprain and sprained MCL limiting him to just 258 defensive snaps and 36 tackles. With a little luck in the injury department, Shazier will more likely approach 1,000 snaps than 258 in 2015, and he'll have 140-tackle upside if he gets to 1,000 snaps.
Major Wright, Chris Conte, S, TB
Although both Wright and Conte started for Lovie Smith in Chicago, whatever favoritism their coaching ties earned them doesn't appear to be enough to save them a starting role in Tampa Bay. The team's official site reported Bradley McDougald is likely set as the starting free safety, with Wright and D.J. Swearinger -- but not Conte -- battling for strong safety. If McDougald is the starting free safety and Conte doesn't compete at strong safety, that would seem to rule out the possibility of Conte starting. As far as Wright goes, Buccaneers.com writer Scott Smith said, "I personally think there's a good chance Swearinger will be a starter to open the season." That's not to say Smith considers it likely that Swearinger will start -- "good chance" is an ambiguous condition -- but he did make clear that Swearinger and Wright were probably "neck-and-neck" in the competition. That said, Smith's general tone seems to favor Swearinger.
Mason Foster, Jon Bostic, (3-4) ILB, CHI
Foster and Bostic might have been expected to start for Chicago a year or two ago, but it's looking increasingly as if neither is likely to earn more than a backup role in Vic Fangio's 3-4 scheme. Shea McClellin and Christian Jones have seemingly emerged as the top two inside linebackers for the Bears, leaving both Foster and Bostic without any guarantee of making the final roster. McClellin and Jones, on the other hand, will both have quite a lot of IDP intrigue if they can earn starting roles. Both have backgrounds as edge rushers and are standout athletes as linebackers, so playing in the middle of a Fangio defense could give them tackle and sack production.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, DET
Van Noy is only a second-year player and missed most of his rookie season due to a sports hernia, so he'll likely have his time of ascension, and likely not too far from now. But in terms of the now, Van Noy does not look like an NFL starter. Although he was a versatile, athletic, clutch playmaker at BYU, coverage has been a problem in his second training camp, leading MLive.com to conclude that Van Noy was heading down the depth chart, behind Tahir Whitehead. Although, Mlive.com was also quick to point out that Van Noy appeared to be making improvements in recent days. Van Noy likely will have his time as a starter in Detroit, but he's probably not worth an investment outside of dynasty or otherwise very deep IDP formats.