Christian Kirksey, (3-4) ILB, CLE
Although the Browns haven't released their final depth chart, it looks like Kirksey, a third-round pick out of Iowa, might serve as a starting inside linebacker next to Karlos Dansby. He earned high reviews for his training camp performances, and the player he's competing with for snaps - Craig Robertson - did not play well as a starter in 2013. Kirksey is an athletic player with great pursuit ability, and he even showed the ability to set the edge in under fronts at Iowa. He'll have triple-digit tackle upside if he's starting in Week 1.
Mike Daniels, (3-4) DE, GB
With B.J. Raji out for the year with a biceps injury, the Packers will be forced to up Daniels' snap count significantly. Counting Green Bay's playoff loss to San Francisco, Daniels posted 28 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 17 games, numbers that are significantly more impressive when you consider that he played only 48.1 percent of Green Bay's snaps. With Raji (606 snaps), Ryan Pickett (488 snaps) and Johnny Jolly (287 snaps) gone, Daniels ought to push or surpass the 60 percent mark this year.
Henry Melton, DT, DAL
Melton suffered an ACL tear back on Sept. 22, but the free agent acquisition appears to be ready to serve as Dallas' lead lineman in Week 1. He was one of the league's most disruptive tackles before his ACL tear, posting 13 sacks over 29 games between 2011 and 2012, and he has DL3 appeal in a Dallas defense that should spend tons of time on the field in 2014.
Jon Beason, MLB, NYG
Beason suffered a torn ligament and fracture in his right foot back in June, and the injury looked like a strong bet to keep Beason out for Week 1, and perhaps a week or two after that. But Beason has been practicing since Monday, and it appears he'll beat the initial prognosis of 12 weeks. Beason is the top IDP among the Giants' linebackers when healthy, though his owners might want to watch whether he earns a full play count in Week 1 before relying on him in their starting lineups.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, DET
Van Noy was expected to serve as Detroit's third linebacker and occasionally edge-rushing specialist starting in Week 1, but an abdominal injury forced the Lions to place him on the IR/designated-to-return list. He won't be eligible to play until the second half of the year.
Akeem Ayers, LB, TEN
Ayers was always a projection prospect more than a production one, so it was always implied that he came with some risk when the Titans selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft. The fact that Ayers begins this year behind Kamerion Wimbley and Derrick Morgan on the depth chart is therefore not entirely shocking, though still disappointing. Ayers looked quite promising as of two years ago, but for now he's off the IDP radar.
D.J. Hayden, CB, OAK
Even if it's a bit unfair to hold an injury against a player or the front office that selected him, Raiders fans have to be sickened by the fact that Hayden will start the 2014 season on the PUP list due to stress fracture in his foot. This followed what was mostly a discouraging rookie season where Hayden missed eight games due to an abdominal issue only to play poorly upon return. He finished with 25 tackles and an interception. By taking Hayden 12th overall, the Raiders passed on Sheldon Richardson and Star Lotulelei, two players who quickly established themselves as Pro Bowl-level producers in their rookie years.
Sanders Commings, S, KC
Commings was a candidate to start at safety alongside Eric Berry in 2014, but the 2013 fifth-round pick out of Georgia will miss the season after suffering a broken ankle and fibula. Commings is a very good athlete who has cornerback-safety versatility, so it's disappointing that he suffered this injury after a broken collarbone erased most of his 2013 rookie season. Husain Abdullah is expected to start next to Berry at this point.