It's time for the seventh 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: Hayward is able to put his early-season hamstring issues behind him to make a return in the midst of the preseason and still have time to get enough prep work for the regular season. He proves his rookie season was no fluke by bettering his six interceptions from a season ago. So impressive is Hayward that the coaches expand his role from slot-nickel cornerback to full-time starter. He gains a reputation as one of the best young cornerbacks in the entire NFL.
Worst-case scenario: The hamstring issue lingers for Hayward, which really puts a cramp in his preparations for the 2013 season. He can't seem to beat our either Tramon Williams, Sam Shields or Davon House for a starting job at cornerback, but once he's healthy, he does resume his role as the nickel/slot cornerback. Hayward isn't able replicate the magic of a season ago, grabbing only two or three interceptions. He still has a solid season, just not an elite one.
Best-case scenario: Williams not only puts his current knee issue behind him, any lingering shoulder problem from the past two seasons seems to go away. When Williams doesn't have to worry about injuries, he's able to play near at the same, high level he did back in 2010. He's a more physical tackler, his interceptions are up and he's a better all-around player in general. Williams matches up with the team's best wide receiver week in and week out and generally shuts them down.
Worst-case scenario: A preseason knee issue continues to plague Williams into the regular season, and we see a changing of the guard at the cornerback position. Williams has been a starter for much of the past five seasons in Green Bay, but he relinquishes his hold on the position to Hayward, Shields and House. Williams might be one the best No. 4 cornerbacks in the NFL, but he sees his least playing time probably since 2007 and gains a reputation for being overpaid compared to the production he provides.
Best-case scenario: Shields is the only one of the top four cornerbacks who's managed to stay completely healthy through the start of training camp, and it shows. He's made a starter almost by default, but he doesn't give it away, even when the others get healthy. Shields is the fastest corner on the team and the best cover corner. He sets new career highs in nearly every category: tackles, interceptions, passes defended. For the first time in his career, Pro Bowl honors come Shields' way.
Worst-case scenario: Shields isn't chopped liver, but he's not as good as the other cornerbacks on the team, especially if they're healthy. He doesn't have the nose for the football like Hayward, he doesn't play with the physicality of House and he can't shut down elite wide receivers like Williams. As far as backup cornerbacks go, Shields is a good one, but the Packers aren't about to give him the contract extension he desires with so many other good cornerbacks on the roster.
Best-case scenario: Gone are the shoulder problems, gone is the food poisoning, and once House is able to play without reservation, his game is taken to a new level. He's finally able to show what he's made of, and it's better than what most of the other cornerbacks on the roster are made of. House starts all 16 games for the Packers in 2013, grabs at least four interceptions and establishes himself as fixture in the Green Bay defense for years to come.
Worst-case scenario: With so many other good cornerbacks on the roster, it's difficult for the Packers to carve out playing time for House. He plays much the same role he did last season, primarily as a reserve. He does a capable job, but he's not quite at the same level as Hayward, Williams or Shields. The physical nature of House is overstated. He's not nearly as good at press coverage and form tackling as he's made out to be.
Best-case scenario: What starts out to be a role primarily on special teams turns into more playing time on defense as the season goes on. Hyde is a very similar player to Hayward. He may not have the best speed, but he's really good at jumping routes. Hyde may not put up like Hayward did in his rookie season, but the Packers find room for him in the dime defense and specialized subpackages. With Williams and Jarrett Bush getting up in age and Shields possibly on his way out of town after the 2013, the future is bright for Hyde in Green Bay.
Worst-case scenario: Because there's so many other talented cornerbacks in Titletown, it's rare when Hyde even sees the field during the regular season. His inexperience shows in preseason games when he gets beat by opposing wide receivers. Hyde is able to make the 53-man roster, but he's rarely even active on game days. On the few occasions he is active, he plays almost exclusively on special teams.
Best-case scenario: Bush may not play a huge role, but whatever he's asked to do, he does it well. As he's been the past several seasons, Bush is the best special teams player in Green Bay. He also continues to play in the Packers' goal-line packages because he's physical and a good tackler, and he continues to live up to that reputation.
Worst-case scenario: Bush may be a good special teams player and he may be a physical presence, but because he's not good at No. 1 thing a cornerback is asked to do in the NFL (coverage), he's eventually forced to part ways with the Packers. The Packers find out that Hyde can fill pretty much the same role as Bush, and Hyde is both younger and cheaper. Bush is cut at the end of training camp.
Best-case scenario: Nixon builds off his big moment during the Packers' Family Night intra-squad scrimmage when he took an interception for a touchdown. Because he spent most of last season on the team's practice squad, he uses that experience to his advantage, which gives him a leg up over players like Brandon Smith and Loyce Means. After a promising preseason, Nixon is once again asked to the Packers practice squad and is only an injury away from being elevated to the team's 53-man roster.
Worst-case scenario: The Family Night pick-six proves to the high-water mark for Nixon, because it's all downhill from there. In an actual game environment, he doesn't look nearly as good, getting beat several times in preseason action. He's cut by the Packers as they show favor for Smith and Means.
Best-case scenario: Like Nixon, Smith uses his end zone interception of B.J. Coleman during the team's Family Night as a launching point for bigger and better things. The advantage Smith has over other cornerbacks on the roster is his 6-1 frame. Now that the converted wide receiver is able to concentrate on being a cornerback, the Packers see his potential and ask him to be on their practice squad during the 2013 season.
Worst-case scenario: The transition from offense to defense is just too much to overcome. There might be some potential in Smith, but he's too rough around the edges. He has a penchant of getting beat on the deep ball during training camp and the preseason, and when that happens, the Packers can't keep him around past the Aug. 27 cutdown date to 75 players.
Best-case scenario: Like they say, you can't teach speed, which is Means' best quality. If he gets beat by a receiver, he usually has the make-up speed to catch up with his man. With a little more experience and seasoning, he gets better as time goes on. The Packers ask him to stick around on the practice squad with the hopes he'll get even better.
Worst-case scenario: There's little to like about Means except his speed. He's doesn't play with good technique and doesn't show a good grasp of what opponents are trying to do. When he gets routinely beat in preseason, the Packers can't afford to keep him around any longer than the third preseason game.
Previous Best & Worst Case Scenario Entries
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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