It's time for the eighth annual "Best & Worst Case Scenario" series, a feature that goes back to the days of the old RailbirdCentral.com domain.
I attempt to take a look at what is the very best possible season a player is capable of producing, and on the other hand, what would happen if a player fell flat on his face (without assuming they suffer a season-ending injury). These are intended to be extreme scenarios on both sides of the spectrum. More than likely, each player is going to fall somewhere in the middle, but every now and then, they just so happen to come to fruition.
As one final note, I also try to take a look at what these scenarios would be from an individual standpoint and not necessarily what's best (or worst) for the team.
Best-case scenario: As usual, Hawk provides all the intangibles you could possibly want. He's the leader and captain of the defense, directing traffic and effectively communicating to the rest of the team, just as he's done for years. But as he becomes surrounded by better talent, his level of play is as good as its ever been. Thanks to the defensive linemen keeping blockers off him and a solid inside linebacker next to him, Hawk finishes the season with four or five sacks, one or two interceptions, one or two forced fumbles, leads the team in tackles, and of course, plays in all 16 games. Name recognition helps him get to the Pro Bowl, but his play is deserving of the honor.
Worst-case scenario: Hawk's leadership is the best thing he provides, because the impact plays are missing from his game. Not even a drop in weight can prevent him from being a step slow. The effort is there, but by season's end, Hawk only has a sack or two, zero interceptions and zero forced fumbles to show for it. He also checks in with less than 100 tackles for the first time since 2011. Throughout the year, the Packers figure out ways to get Hawk off the field, particularly in passing situations, where he can't be exposed.
Best-case scenario: For the first time in his career, Jones starts all 16 games and looks like the linebacker the Packers always hoped he'd be. Part of being effective is just staying healthy, but Jones is finally experienced enough to figure out the mental part of the game too. He sets a career-highs in almost every statistical category, comes up with more than 100 tackles, has five sacks, forces at least two fumbles. Jones is the most effective and reliable inside linebacker on the roster.
Worst-case scenario: From a talent-standpoint, Jones is the same linebacker he's always been: average and inconsistent. He's in no danger of losing a roster spot as he's definitely an NFL-caliber player, but at some point mid-season, the Packers decide they can do better in their starting lineup. Jones is benched in favor of either a Jamari Lattimore or Sam Barrington. From that point forward, Jones sees only limited playing time on defense.
Best-case scenario: Entering his fourth season in the NFL and his third consecutive as an inside linebacker, things start to click for Lattimore. No longer is he the player caught out of position like he was last season. Lattimore uses his athleticism to make plays, and eventually takes over a job in the starting lineup. It may not come Week 1, but when Brad Jones can't consistently play at a high-level, Lattimore is installed as the starter, a job he doesn't give up.
Worst-case scenario: Special teams is Lattimore's biggest contribution to the Packers. He's actually a decent special teams player, but that only gets him so far. Lattimore only receives sparse playing time on defense when injury necessitates, but he can never claim a starting job. Hawk and Jones are inserted right back into the lineup as soon as they're healthy, and in due time, Sam Barrington becomes the preferred option off the bench.
Best-case scenario: Bolstered by impressive play in the preseason, Barrington becomes a player the Packers can't afford to linger on the bench. During the exhibition season, Barrington is seemingly making tackles all over the field in addition to making sacks, grabbing interceptions and forcing fumbles. He might bide his time on special teams early in the season, but the Packers start to find a role for Barrington on defense by mid-season. In due time, he leapfrogs both Jones and Lattimore on the depth chart.
Worst-case scenario: Lingering hamstring problems from last season don't help Barrington's bid for a roster spot in 2014. He begins training camp with the second-string defense at inside linebacker, but before long, he's been surpassed by rookie Joe Thomas and relegated to third-string duty. When Barrington can't make any measurable impact in the preseason, the Packers have part ways with the second-year player. He's released at the end of camp.
Best-case scenario: One of the pleasant surprises of training camp, Thomas seems to impress at every turn. He catches eyes at both training camp practices and in preseason play alike. Thomas performs like a player years ahead of his time, solid and reliable, the type of player the Packers aren't afraid to give playing time despite being just a rookie. Making the 53-man roster, Thomas' contributions as a rookie are primarily on special teams, but it appears as if he could play a much larger role in the future.
Worst-case scenario: Thomas looks athletic and moves well, but it's partially due to the fact that he weighs only 227 lbs. No one can knock his effort, but when he gets playing time in 11-on-11 situations, whether it's in practice or a game, his size betrays him. Thomas gets knocked around. As much as the Packers like his athleticism, they know they need linebackers that can take on 300-pound offensive linemen, and Thomas just isn't that type of player. He makes it to the final cutdown date at the end of camp but can't make it any further.
Best-case scenario: Coming from the ranks of Division I football, Doughty appears better prepared for the NFL than Thomas. Not only can he handle being a leader and making play calls for the second and third string units, he's a tackling machine with a nose for the football. Doughty impresses in preseason and action on both defense and special teams, the latter being his key to a roster spot. He, perhaps surprisingly, gets the final roster spot among the inside linebackers ahead of players like Barrington and Thomas.
Worst-case scenario: Doughty is overwhelmed by the NFL game. He's the type of player that only gets fouth-quarter playing time during the preseason and doesn't look as if he belongs even among the third-stringers. When fellow rookie Joe Thomas outplays Doughty, there's no reason to keep both of them around. The Utah State product is sent packing when the Packers have to cut down their roster to 75 players.
Best-case scenario: It's difficult for Jones to make much of an impact being so far down the depth chart, but he quietly and solidly does his job. By no means does he stand out, but when he's out on the field during the preseason, he carries out his responsibilities. It's enough for him to escape the NFL's first cutdown date to 75 players, getting to stick around until the end of training camp and hopefully catch the eye of another NFL team because there's no room for him in Green Bay.
Worst-case scenario: Signed just days before the start of training camp, Jones finds himself behind the eight ball. He wasn't afforded the luxury of being with the team throughout the offseason program, and it shows. Whenever Jones receives playing time, he seems unsure of himself and his responsibilities. Jones hits the waiver wire before the end of training camp.
Next in the series is the cornerbacks.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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