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: With Desmond Bishop out for a significant amount of time, any thoughts that Hawk would be supplanted in the starting lineup have been dashed. Hawk doesn't have to have 10 sacks to be effective, he just needs to have a season like he did during the Super Bowl season in 2010 when he had over 100 tackles, 10 passes defensed and three interceptions. Hawk has a similar season in 2012, and the Packers defense operates more efficiently, kind of like they did in 2010.
Worst-case scenario: Just like 2011, Hawk is a step late everywhere he goes. He's making tackles downfield instead of making stops in the hole, and he's trailing receivers in coverage. And the lack of big plays continues with very few sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles. As long as Hawk in the lineup, fans will continue to wonder if there's not a better option out there to replace him.
Best-case scenario: A tackling machine, Smith easily leads the team in tackles and approaches 150 over the course of the season. Better yet, Smith makes the Packers forget about the loss of Desmond Bishop, and that's not a knock against Bishop. Smith just steps in and doesn't miss a beat, and also shows that his future is bright. The comparisons to Sam Mills are accurate.
Worst-case scenario: Smith is okay, but he's no Bishop. The replacement at inside linebacker plays hard and makes a lot of tackles, but he doesn't have the impact of Bishop who had five sacks last season. A lot of tackles don't mean much when they're made four or five yards downfield. Smith might be better in a backup role than a starter.
Best-case scenario: At this point, just being able to return to football would be the biggest positive possible for Bishop. He avoids being placed on injured reserve, and while he misses the first couple months of action, Bishop is able to return by November or December and re-gain his spot in the starting lineup. The chances of this happening, however, would appear to be slim.
Worst-case scenario: Bishop is lost for the season. The recovery time for a torn hamstring just won't allow him to return any time in 2012, and instead the focus is getting ready and healthy in time for 2013.
Best-case scenario: Francois is a reliable backup and special-teams contributor to the Packers. Just like 2011, Francois doesn't play a whole lot, but when he does play, he's someone that the Packers can trust. He's at his best in pass coverage and grabs and interception or two in similar fashion to last season.
Worst-case scenario: Francois is okay, but he's a backup at best. He actually loses ground to Jamari Lattimore and rarely sees the field. It's a constant battle to make the 46-man game-day roster for Francois.
Best-case scenario: Thanks to putting on a bunch of weight in the offseason without compromising his speed, Lattimore is a better football player than ever before. With Bishop out of the lineup, Lattimore becomes the top backup at inside linebacker and has the added value of being able to play outside linebacker in a pinch. He's also a special-teams regular whose role just keeps getting bigger and bigger all the time.
Worst-case scenario: Lattimore might be a special teams player, but that's about it. He's further down the linebacker depth chart than Francois, and as such, rarely sees the field on defense.
Best-case scenario: With a good performance in the final two preseason games, Manning finally has the breakout the Packers have been waiting for since trading up to select him in the fifth round of the draft. After a slow start to training camp, Manning finally catches on. He earns one of the final spots on the 53-man roster. While he rarely plays on defense in the regular season, his best days are ahead of him.
Worst-case scenario: Either he's miscast as an inside linebacker or Manning was simply a mistake of a draft choice. Either way, he doesn't make an impact for the Packers either on defense or on special teams. It's a difficult decision to cut a player you traded up to grab, but there's no sense hanging onto Manning. Maybe he latches on with a 4-3 team somewhere else where he's a better fit.
Brian Carriveau is the editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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