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 Ryan Grant gone, the door is open for James Starks to become the featured back in the Packers offense. Alex Green and Brandon Saine might get a carry here and there, but Starks carries the load and becomes the first Packers running back to rush for over 1,000 yards since Ryan Grant in 2009. After having only one rushing touchdown in 2011, Starks has more than five in 2012. He becomes a better receiver and pass blockers, and perhaps best of all, Starks stays healthy for an entire season and plays in all 16 games.
Worst-case scenario: Whether it's due to injuries, or he just isn't living up to expectations, Starks isn't any more of a featured back than Green. While Starks may get the nod as the starter because of his experience, he finishes the season with roughly 500 yards, about the same as Green. And just like 2011, you can't his touchdowns on one finger, maybe two. He's not much of a receiver, and he doesn't pass block particularly well. By the time the end of the season rolls around, Starks is no longer atop the depth chart.
Best-case scenario: The season will truly be a success if Green just gets back to 100% less than a year removed from a torn ACL, but he's capable of more than that. Green has talent that can make him a feature back in the Packers' offense, and he shows more and more with every passing week during the regular season and eventually overtakes Starks and the starter's job. He leads the team in rushing and touchdowns on the ground as well as becomes a reliable pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield.
Worst-case scenario: Green plays during the 2012 season and is active for nearly every game, but it's clear he's only operating at 80 to 90% capacity. Instead of sharing the load with Starks or even surpassing him, Green only plays a couple snaps per game and is lucky to have a couple hundred yards by season's end. He's too talented to give up on, and he'll enter 2013 getting another shot.
Best-case scenario: When Starks underwhelms and Green can't get up to speed, it's Saine's time to shine. He uses his speed to his advantage and carves out a role that starts out as the team's third-down back but gets bigger as the year goes on. By the end of the season, he's nearly in a time share with Starks and has nearly as many yards as him too. Saine is the leading receiver among running backs and has four or five touchdowns at year's end.
Worst-case scenario: Saine just isn't at the same level as Starks or Green and does little more than play a niche role. He gets occasional playing time, a handful of carries here and there, and several receptions, but Saine is lucky to play five snaps per game on offense if he's even active on game days. Over the course of the season, it becomes apparent Saine is not above replacement level.
Best-case scenario: If Kuhn can offer the Packers the same thing he's done for them the past two seasons, he's doing great. He's able to fulfill several roles from short-yardage and goal-line ball carrier, to occasional receiver out of the backfield, to the same old blocking-back role he's always had. Kuhn scores somewhere around five touchdowns and once agains gets voted on the Pro Bowl team.
Worst-case scenario: The knee injury Kuhn suffered in the playoff loss to the New York Giants last year seems to linger, and he's just not as effective as he used to be. Due to his experience alone, Kuhn is relied upon to be the starter at fullback, but maybe his best days are behind him. He doesn't get many carries anymore and he's not all that good of a blocker either.
Best-case scenario: Thanks to an impressive performance during the preseason, Tyler some how, some way sneaks his way onto the 53-man roster whether it's ahead of Saine or because of injury. He doesn't see a whole lot of action during the regular season, but he gets more and more playing time as the season goes along. The impressive part of his year comes back during the exhibition season when he's the Packers' leading rusher and shows he's a player worth developing.
Worst-case scenario: Pedestrian is the best way to describe Tyler. He didn't play in the Family Night scrimmage, which didn't help his chances, and he does little to impress during the exhibition games either. Tyler gets plenty of opportunities but never seems to break a long run, and in the end, he's cut by the Packers with no practice squad invite either.
Best-case scenario: Bennett is the beneficiary of a thin group of running backs and exceeds expectations during the preseason. He springs a few runs of 10 yards or more, he has a couple receptions and looks reliable when trying to protect the quarterback. While a spot on the 53-man roster isn't in the cards, he is invited to be part of the practice squad and is only an injury away from being promoted.
Worst-case scenario: While in college at Minnesota, Bennett never seemed better than average, and it's the same way in the NFL. Now that the level of competition has increased, Bennett looks even worse. He just doesn't look like he belongs in the big leagues, and if it weren't for depth issues at running back, he probably would have been cut earlier. Bennett is a casualty in the first roster cutdown to 75.
Best-case scenario: Hoese returns from his current hamstring injury to see significant playing time in the preseason. Considering all the time he's missed, it's a positive simply to play in a game again, even though it doesn't result in a spot on the 53-man roster. When Hoese is asked to be on the practice squad like he was last season, it's more than he could ask for.
Worst-case scenario: The hamstring injury lingers and even if Hoese is able to return before the preseason is over, he's fallen behind Nic Cooper in the battle to be the backup fullback. Hoese just isn't very impressive in any phase of the game, and as such, he's cut by the first roster cutdown date after the third exhibition game.
Best-case scenario: Cooper takes advantage of all the practice time he's received with Kuhn and Hoese out injured by having it translating over to game situations. Even though he remains raw as a blocker, he's not doing bad considering he was a halfback in college. His experience carrying the ball shows when he gets the occasional touch in goal-line and short-yardage situations. Cooper makes the 53-man roster as Kuhn's backup and could be his eventual replacement.
Worst-case scenario: The best that can be said about Cooper is that he's a poor man's John Kuhn. He does okay, and he tried hard, but he's just not as good as Kuhn in any facet of the game whether it's blocking, carrying the football, catching it, or even playing on special teams. He's cut by the Packers and doesn't get so much as a practice squad invite.