It's time for the sixth 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 for the team.
Best-case scenario: Following a year in which he appeared to take a step backwards, Raji gets back to the same level he was playing in 2010 during the Super Bowl season when he had 7.5 sacks between the regular season and the playoffs. The Packers have more depth than ever on the defensive line with the additions of Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels and Anthony Hargrove, which helps Raji get some rest every now and then, and gives him a bigger burst of energy when he does play. Raji makes the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive season, but this time he earns it.
Worst-case scenario: Raji has a similar season in 2012 that he had in 2011. In other words, underwhelming. Based upon talent alone, Raji is still one of the Packers' best defensive linemen, but perhaps that isn't saying much. Raji gets a handful of sacks and his starting status is never in jeopardy, but he just isn't the same player that everyone saw in 2010, and that's unfortunate.
Best-case scenario: Not only does Worthy take pressure off players like Raji and Clay Matthews, he might be an improvement over the departed Cullen Jenkins. The Packers have been looking for a pass rush from their defensive line ever since Jenkins left, and Worthy provides it. He isn't perfect his rookie year; he makes a few bonehead mistakes and gets called offsides several times, but his positives far outweigh his negatives. Worthy looks like he could be one of the better NFL defensive linemen in a few years.
Worst-case scenario: It's hard to call a player a bust after only one season, but Worthy does little to inspire confidence. The only time he makes any plays are when he goes unblocked, and those opportunities are few and far between. If Worthy is ever engaged with a blocker, forget about it. The only situations Worthy plays are in the nickel and not the base. He'll have to make a big leap from Year 1 to Year 2.
Best-case scenario: There's no dropoff in the the play of Pickett. He's the same solid player he's been for the past several seasons. Pickett never was a pass rusher and never will be, but his worth coming in the running game when he's able to open things up for the linebackers behind him. Best of all, he stays healthy and plays in all 16 games.
Worst-case scenario: Pickett starts to show signs of age. About the only thing he can do any more is play on first and second downs in the base defense or Jumbo packages. Pickett's days of playing in the nickel are all but over when younger players step up their game. He can still be reliable in the run game but even then, he doesn't seem as good as previous years.
Best-case scenario: Daniels and not Worthy is the most effective rookie defensive linemen on the Packers. It's a niche role that Daniels fills with the Packers by playing pretty much only in the nickel and dime subpackages, but his play in those situations is very valuable. By year's end, Daniels has at least five sacks and his future is bright.
Worst-case scenario: Because of his smallish frame, Daniels can't take the pounding that bigger defensive linemen take, and it seems like he's mired in an on-again, off-again injury situation. When he's healthy and he plays, Daniels shows flashes of surprising pass-rush ability. Unfortunately, those flashes are few and far between. Daniels needs a year in an NFL weight room and needs to become a physical freak if he's going to succeed in the NFL.
Best-case scenario: In his third year in the NFL, Wilson is ready to make a big-time jump. He might never be a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but that doesn't mean he can't be a valuable and contributing member of the Packers defense. Wilson is a starter in the Packers' base 3-4 defense and does a really good job in that role. He might even be the long-term replacement for Ryan Pickett, but he's also capable of adding three or four sacks a year.
Worst-case scenario: Wilson is as nice a guy as you'll find in the NFL, but that doesn't win football games. When he can't do anything more than be a rotational defensive end that offers little to no pass rush, 2012 is Wilson's last year in a Packers uniform. He can play a the run a little bit in the base defense, but that alone isn't enough to extend his life n Green Bay.
Best-case scenario: Finally, 2012 is the season Packers fans have been waiting to see out of Neal since he was a second-round draft choice back in 2010. He gets off to a slow start because of his four-game suspension, but when he comes back, his play just gets better every week. By the end of the season, he can't be kept out of the starting lineup. Better yet, he stays healthy for the entire season.
Worst-case scenario: The season gets off to a poor start when Neal has to miss the first four games of suspension, and the Packers probably would have been better off never bringing him back. He plays a little here and there, but is mostly invisible, not unlike 2011. Between his bonehead suspension and injury history, the Packers will cut ties with Neal in the offseason.
Best-case scenario: First Hargrove avoids his suspension thanks to an injunction handed down by a federal court, and then he far outplays the modest contract he signed with the Packers. It's not like Hargrove is an All-Pro, but by getting five or more sacks, he was more than worth signing in free agency.
Worst-case scenario: Missing the first eight weeks of the season sets Hargrove back further than anyone could have expected. Once back with the Packers after Week 8, it takes him a couple weeks to get back to speed. When the rookie defensive linemen on the team are having terrific seasons, Hargrove's impact is almost nil, and he doesn't even play all that much.
Best-case scenario: The deeper into training camp the Packers go, the better Merling looks. Thanks to the early season suspensions to Neal and Hargrove, he makes the 53-man roster to start the season. His hold on a roster spot may only be temporary, and his impact on the team is minimal, but Merling never hurts the Packers when he sees playing time.
Worst-case scenario: There's a reason the Dolphins cut Merling, and over the course of the preseason, he shows why. Merling is never all that impressive, and the Packers are just wasting their time with him when there's younger players on the roster who are more deserving. He can't get past the first round of roster cuts.
Best-case scenario: Perhaps surprisingly, Muir wins a roster spot on the 53-man roster, although it didn't hurt that Hargrove and Neal were suspended to begin the season. Somehow Muir just keeps plugging away and earns himself a role on the team not unlike Howard Green the previous couple seasons. He's a big-bodied run stuffer and exceeds expectations every time he's in the game.
Worst-case scenario: Even though Muir performs well during training camp and the preseason, the Packers just don't have room for another big defensive tackle on the roster beyond Raji and Pickett. Muir is one the last cuts when the Packers have to trim down to 53 players, but they just can't afford to keep him. He'll only be a phone call away, however, if injuries occur.
Best-case scenario: The best thing that can be said about Wynn is that he avoided the first round of cuts to earn himself one extra week of exposure in hopes that he can hopefully catch the eye of another team, because his time has come to an end with the Packers.
Worst-case scenario: The Jarius Wynn era is over in Green Bay. It's good that Wynn got himself a Super Bowl ring, but the highlights have been few since that time. Not even the suspensions to Neal and Hargrove can save Wynn, even temporarily. He's cut after the third preseason game to give more snaps to those who have a chance of sticking around for the fourth and final exhibition contest.
Best-case scenario: There's some potential in Guy, but the rookies on the team are better options, and the Packers just can't afford a roster spot in him. Fortunately for Guy, he's still eligible for the practice squad and sticks around in Green Bay through that avenue. If injuries occur on the defensive line, he might get a chance.
Worst-case scenario: Guy is too far down the depth chart to make an impact. The only playing time he gets during the preseason is in the third and fourth quarters, and he doesn't do much even when he does play. With rookies like Worthy and Daniels making noise, the Packers decide to put most of their time in effort in them and not Guy. He's cut without a practice squad invite.
Best-case scenario: The best-case scenario for Jones might be to be placed on injured reserve so he can spend the entire season in Green Bay rehabbing and learning, because even a practice squad invite might be too much to ask for this injured player.
Worst-case scenario: Jones receives an injury settlement when he's waived injured, and his career in Green Bay comes to a close.
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