Most quality IDP fantasy options are locked into starting roles as we get ready for training camp. But plenty of other players have position competition ahead, and some of those competing could deliver sneaky value to your IDP lineup if things go right.
Here's a look at the summertime competitions to track on defense ...
Bengals left DE
Contenders: Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt and Robert Geathers
The Bengals let starter Michael Johnson walk in free agency and seem likely to fill his role with some combo of the players above.
Gilberry -- a 29-year-old veteran of 6 seasons -- has posted 2 of his 3 best sack totals since arriving in Cincinnati back in 2012. His 14 combined sacks as a situational rusher over those 2 campaigns suggests intriguing fantasy upside should he see more playing time. But the Bengals also drafted Hunt in Round 2 last year after he blew up the Scouting Combine.
The former world-class thrower (discus and shot put) measured in at 6'8, 280 pounds before running a 4.6-second 40, jumping 34.5 inches vertically and 10'1 in the broad and ripping off 38 reps on the bench. On his way out the door, former DC (now Vikings coach) Mike Zimmer told Bengals.com, "I think Margus Hunt will take a big jump."
Hunt has a lot to learn after arriving in Cincinnati with just 4 years of organized football behind him. But he could certainly nab the starting LDE spot if he proves mentally ready. Both Hunt and Gilberry figure to log plenty of playing time, regardless of which technically starts. Either player can become an inside rusher in passing situations.
Geathers should be a reserve at this point.
Dolphins right DE
Favorite: Olivier Vernon
Contender: Dion Jordan
Jordan's 4-game suspension guaranteed that Vernon will keep this job into the regular season, but the summer will show us how much playing time Jordan can grab after his return.
The #3 overall pick from 2013 endured a predictably tough rookie year. He entered the draft with a shoulder injury that promised to limit his offseason work, which matters even more to a guy who arrived as an undersized DE.
Jordan has bulked up to 265 pounds, however, after hitting the 2013 Combine at 248. Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald said it "looked as if he took an air pump and plugged it into his arms and shoulders." HC Joe Philbin has also said that Jordan looks more comfortable on the field and is able to think less while reacting to the action.
Vernon's coming off a surprise 11.5-sack season but doesn't seem like the kind of player who will reach double digits regularly. Jordan comes with the much higher ceiling and will undoubtedly steal snaps after his return. That would steer us away from Vernon in IDP drafts. We'll have to learn more about Jordan's role at least, though, before considering him a fantasy option.
Favorite: C.J. Mosley
Contender: Arthur Brown
Coming off a pair of 100-tackle seasons at Kansas State, Brown looked like a high-ceiling IDP option after arriving in Baltimore as a 2nd-round pick. But he never managed to crack the starting lineup last year, and now he might have lost any chance to do so (barring injury).
The Ravens drafted Mosley 17th overall after re-signing ILB Daryl Smith, so they clearly hope that he'll start. And the offseason reports have been good. Mosley is competing with Brown but has looked good in drills and says he's devoted to immersing himself in the playbook.
The 2 could start together whenever the 32-year-old Smith steps aside, and the team might work both young players into the rotation this year. But we're betting on Mosley to start and present more fantasy value. We'd like to see his role defined more clearly this summer, though, before considering the rookie a starting option in most IDP formats.
Favorite: Preston Brown
Contenders: Nigel Bradham, Ty Powell
Kiko Alonso's ACL tear made quite a few IDP owners cry, but it also created a big opportunity for at least 1 teammate. We won't know until later this summer whom that will be, but Brown looks like the early favorite.
The 3rd-round rookie began the offseason working behind MLB Brandon Spikes, but the Bills shifted him outside after Alonso got hurt. Brown seems an odd fit there based on scouting reports that call him uncomfortable in coverage. Brown, who played MLB at Louisville, looks better attacking in run D than he does dropping back.
If that holds true in camp and the preseason, it could hurt him in this competition. Even if he wins the job, Brown could be more of a 2-down player. That would help Spikes deliver more fantasy value as a 3-down LB. For now, we'll see whether Brown performs to his scouting report or quickly delivers on the promise the Bills see in him.
Bradham has been a solid player in limited duty so far. He'd be a guy to watch if he were to win the job. Powell's an upside rookie who will have to show quite a bit this summer to crack the lineup right away.
Favorite: Sio Moore
Conteders: Miles Burris and Kevin Burnett
This one's a tight competition with some real potential value for the winner. We talked up Moore plenty as a rookie last year, but a Week 3 car crash gave him a concussion and then inconsistent playing time sapped his value. Pro Football Focus still graded the rookie as Oakland's best defensive player for the season, and Moore showed out in all areas.
He moved from the strong side to the weak side this offseason after Oakland drafted Khalil Mack 5th overall. That figures to change Moore's role a bit even if he starts from the Von Miller-type role that Oakland coaches said they planned for him last summer. Moore delivered numbers across the categories while playing varied LB roles at UConn, though, and will be an intriguing value if he wins the job.
He'll face strong competition from Burris, however, who lost 10 games to a knee injury last year. Burris started 15 of 16 games on the weak side as a 2012 rookie, and DC Jason Tarver said he's excited to see the 3rd-year player back in pads come camp. Burris ranked 2nd on the team in tackles as a rookie.
Burnett returns as the incumbent but has seemed to fall out a bit with the coaching staff this offseason. He missed the spring minicamp and appears to sit 3rd in this race.
Favorite: Jacquian Williams
Contender: Spencer Paysinger
LBs coach Jim Hermann said in June that Williams is locked in as the starter here after sharing the post over the past 2 years. So this might no longer officially be a competition. We'll still be watching this summer to make sure he's a 3-down player.
Williams has been a passing-down sub in the past, however, which bodes well for his full-time status. He broke up 8 passes in limited duty last year and has defensed 14 over the past 3 seasons. And MLB Jon Beason's likely absence to start the season should help Williams' tackle production. (We'll see how Beason's recovery from the foot fracture goes between now and then.)
Expect Williams to start moving up our IDP rankings now that his role seems more clearly defined.
Favorite: Justin Durant
Contenders: Anthony Hitchens and DeVonte Holloman
Dallas' middle is a mess without Sean Lee. The leader's ACL tear left the Cowboys so desperate that they actually made a trade for retired former 1st-round bust Rolando McClain.
Durant will enter camp as the de facto starter, but even he has admitted that he's not particularly comfortable in the middle (at least not yet). Durant started 6 games for the Cowboys last year after arriving as a free agent, playing almost solely on the strong side. He spent the previous 6 seasons starting for the Jaguars and then Lions. Durant lost 2+ games to injury in all but 1 of those years, however, and spent most of his time in OLB roles.
Holloman started the final 2 games last season in place of an injured Lee. He led the team with 11 tackles and 2 sacks in the finale against Philadelphia and flashed in the preseason as a rookie with 2 INTs and a sack (plus 16 total tackles). That followed a college career that started at safety before moving him to "spur," a hybrid safety/LB position at South Carolina. Holloman picked off 7 passes and defensed 20 others over his 4 seasons. That could make him attractive as the middle man in Rod Marinelli's "Tampa 2" scheme, which often asks the MLB to cover the deep middle.
Hitchens, meanwhile, arrived this May as a 4th-round pick after playing OLB at Iowa. The Cowboys hoped to have him develop behind Lee, and many considered him a reach pick even in Round 4.
Holloman looks like the highest-upside option here, but he'll need to beat Durant in camp. It might help his case, at least, that Durant could start on the strong side. The vet could call plays in the huddle from that post if Dallas deems Holloman a talent it needs to get onto the field. Consider Holloman a deep sleeper and the others mediocre options who could benefit from tackle volume.
Favorite: Christian Kirksey
Contender: Craig Robertson
After the Browns cut veteran OLB Quentin Groves in early June, they slid Kirksey out to that spot for the ensuing practices. That shouldn't worry you for the rookie's immediate role, however.
New HC Mike Pettine told the Akron Beacon Journal that he believes it's important to "cross-train" your players in preparation for the smaller in-season rosters. The fact that he tried to do so with Kirksey before the 3rd-round pick even got to his 1st pro training camp seems to say good things.
It indicates to us that Pettine sees Kirksey as a talented player that he wants on the field. It suggests that the coach believes the rookie can handle learning 2 positions in his 1st offseason. And it also says -- at least at this early stage -- to expect Kirksey to be part of the game-day plan.
He'll still need to beat out Robertson for a starting gig, though. And we like his chances.
PFF rated Robertson the league's worst ILB in pass coverage last year. That just so happens to be a strength for Kirksey, who even covered slot WRs at Iowa. The lankily-built LB also improved his run D last season, according to scouts.
Robertson offered fringe fantasy-starter value at times last year. We won't bet on much from him if he keeps the job next to newcomer Karlos Dansby. But we'll look to Kirksey as a waiver-wire guy to watch if he starts.
Favorite: Jasper Brinkley
Contender: Audie Cole and Michael Mauti
Brinkley spent the most time at MLB in offseason workouts, but new HC Mike Zimmer warned against reading too much into that.
"We have to line them up somewhere when we go, but I don't look at this guy is the favorite or that guy is the starter," he told ESPN.com. "(Brinkley)'s lined up with the first team right now, but I don't know, once we get him in practice and games and the things that prepare us for games and for the season, that will determine who lines up there on Sept. 7."
So we probably won't know the winner here until sometime after the preseason games have started. Don't be surprised if it takes multiple games for the Vikes to solidify their approach. Frankly, we don't think it's a situation worth waiting for.
Brinkley played his way out of Minnesota the 1st time he got a chance to start in the middle. He particularly struggled in coverage. That suggests he'd give up passing-down duties to Cole or Mauti even if he wins the starting job.
Chad Greenway on 1 side and rookie Anthony Barr on the other don't figure to come off the field for 3rd downs. Barr might move up to the line as a rusher in many of those situations, which could leave room for another LB in coverage. If Cole beats out Brinkley for the starting gig, he'd be a good candidate for the passing-down role and thus worth targeting in plenty of IDP leagues. But we're apparently not close to that happening -- at least not yet.
Favorite: Larry Foote
Contender: Lorenzo Alexander
This competition is part of the reason that Kevin Minter makes so much sense as an upside buy in your IDP league. Foote's a 34-year-old who lost 15 games to a torn biceps last year and then walked in free agency. He produced the largest tackle total of his career in 2012 but did not play as well as his numbers seemed to indicate.
Alexander's a 9th-year veteran who has starting just 16 games in his career, 12 of those back in 2010 for Washington. He has drawn positive reviews for his versatility and special teams work, but going 8 years without becoming a starter anywhere suggests a fairly low performance ceiling.
Neither player seems destined for a stat explosion should he win the job, but each could benefit from volume. The winner of this competition will take over Daryl Washington's vacated role (league suspension). But neither will approach his big-play ability or speed to the ball. Foote or Alexander will make for waiver fodder in your IDP league. Minter, meanwhile, looks like an attractive high-ceiling LB3 (who we project in LB2 territory).
Favorites: D.J. Williams and Shea McClellin
Contender: Jon Bostic
Williams is not a special player at this point, but the Bears re-signed the 32-year-old (as of July 20) even after he lost 10 games to a torn pec in his 1st year with them. Williams also lost 9 games to off-field issues in 2012 and 3 to injury in 2011. He has reached 100 tackles just 3 times over the past 9 years, with minimal big-play upside.
So, Williams continues to work as the middle starter in Chicago and looks like the favorite to stay there. But he's not much of a factor for your IDP draft.
McClellin's at least more interesting for the fact that he's moving from DE to LB. Bears coaches say they're pleased with the transition so far, while conceding that they can't really know how he'll fare before seeing the 3rd-year player in full pads.
McClellin will get a shot on the strong side and in the middle. ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright has said he doesn't expect McClellin to win either job. If that proves true, Bostic would likely emerge on the strong side.
Bostic disappointed in the middle after taking over for the injured Williams last year. He played well vs. the run and pass as an ILB at Florida, though, and retains upside. Bostic could become a fantasy factor on the strong side if he emerges, just as James Anderson did last year. But he won't be worth drafting. For that matter, you probably won't see us touch any of these 3 competitors in 2014 IDP drafts.
Favorites: Akeem Ayers and Derrick Morgan
Contenders: Kamerion Wimbley and Shaun Phillips
New Titans HC Ken Whisenhunt called out Ayers as a player on the spot this year whose knee issues won't be an excuse.
That certainly tells us that Whiz hasn't seen enough from Ayers in his tape review of the 4th-year player. But it also indicates that the new coach believes he's capable of more.
The big question mark with Ayers -- regardless of what Whisenhunt says -- is a pair of knees that each underwent surgery this offseason. Ayers had both patella tendons repaired and isn't a sure thing for the start of training camp. If he can get back on the field soon enough, though, Ayers brings more pass-rushing upside than probably anyone else in the OLB competition.
Morgan will get his 1st taste of OLB in DC Ray Horton's 3-4 scheme after playing 4-3 DE in college and over his 1st 4 pro seasons. Horton told the team website in June that the transition has gone smoothly, but we'll see what the summer has in store.
Wimbley will turn 31 in October, took a reduced salary this offseason and played a smaller role in 2013. But he has fared better as a LB in his career than a DE. Wimbley could win a starting spot if Morgan or Ayers falters, but the team would likely prefer to have the younger options step up.
Phillips, 33, signed a 2-year, $6 million deal as a free agent in March. He arrives as insurance and a situational rusher. If he's starting come Week 1, it'll mean that the younger guys failed to step up or got hurt.
Ayers is the most likely of this bunch to realize some IDP value, but his knees make him undraftable in fantasy until he proves they're healthy.
Favorite: Keenan Robinson
Contender: Darryl Sharpton
An intriguing 4th-round rookie 2 years ago, Robinson missed 21 of 32 games while dealing with 2 pectoral tears. But he enters this summer as the favorite to take over London Fletcher's spot next to Perry Riley.
Robinson brings good speed and range to the position, and his coverage ability could help him stay on the field for all 3 downs -- if he beats out the veteran Sharpton for the position. Of course, health will be key as well after a tough start to his career in that area.
Sharpton started 19 games across 4 seasons with the Texans, including 8 last year in place of an injured Brian Cushing. He has been a solid player but doesn't seem to present a ton of upside.
Either Robinson or Sharpton will have to prove his fantasy worth before joining your roster, unless you play in a deeper-than-usual IDP league.
Favorite: Deone Bucannon
Contender: Tony Jefferson
This one looks like a competition in name alone. The Cardinals did not spend their 1st-round pick on an All-Pac-12 safety to sit him behind some undrafted 2nd-year player.
Certainly, if Jefferson outperforms Bucannon this summer, he should win the job. But he'd likely have to fare significantly better than the rookie. Tie figures to go to the dude with the bigger contract.
Assuming Bucannon does take this job in camp, you'll be looking at a high-ceiling immediate IDP starter. You can check out our profile for Bucannon to get the full scoop. The short version: He topped 100 tackles in each of his final 2 college years and picked off 15 career passes. Plus, Arizona's starting SS will play behind a LB corps that must replace both inside starters. That can only add tackle upside to the safeties.
Favorite: Roman Harper
Contender: Robert Lester
Lester played well as an undrafted rookie last year, but the Panthers went out and signed Harper anyway. It's a smallish 2-year deal for a guy who will turn 32 in December, however, and Harper has long struggled in coverage. He could well land a starting gig but give way to Lester -- or anyone else who might emerge this summer -- in passing situations.
Harper's an attractive fantasy option when starting and playing full time. But the Saints reduced his role before letting him walk. We'll see if the Panthers view him as a 3-down player. If they do, he belongs in draft range. There are plenty of other value safeties available in the meantime.