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: Motivated by his impending free agency, Raji looks more like the defensive linemen we saw in 2010 and less like the one in 2011. He seems to do everything well in 2013, whether it’s rushing the passer or defending the run. Raji is able to match his career-high of 6.5 sacks and in run defense, gone are the days when Colin Kaepernick and Adrian Peterson are zooming past the Packers defensive line, because Raji is holding his ground like never before.
Worst-case scenario: Raji isn’t nearly as bad as some critics make him out to be, but they expect more from the ninth overall draft pick. Once again, however, Raji underachieves, which only fuels the fire about his future in Green Bay. With Datone Jones around, the Packers don’t need Raji to play on passing downs as often in the past, and he only has one or two sacks all year. His run defense is overrated.
Best-case scenario: The rookie’s impact on the Green Bay Packers defense is just what they were seeking. Jones is easily the best defensive lineman of the 2013 NFL draft class and a candidate for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. He reaches at least eight sacks and is good enough to be a three-down player in Dom Capers’ system. Because the Packers rotate their defensive linemen, he gets the occasional breather, but it only helps to keep Jones fresh and more efficient.
Worst-case scenario: Jones is a good pass rusher, even as a rookie, racking up four to six sacks, but his run defense still leaves a lot to be desired. For the most part, Jones only sees playing time in the nickel and dime packages, replaced by the likes of Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson in the base defense. He can’t seem to anchor himself against the mauling offensive linemen the NFL has to offer.
Best-case scenario: Coming off a three-year suspension, Jolly won’t be denied a roster spot. He appears to make strides with every passing week at training camp. As he gets in better shape, the better he looks. There are flashes of the Jolly from 2009, which is enough for the Packers to keep him around. He isn’t a Pro Bowl player, but the Packers don’t need him to be. Jolly helps to stuff the run, and get his long limbs in the passing game just like he used to. Considering where he’s been, the 2013 season can only be considered a success.
Worst-case scenario: The three-year layoff is just too much to overcome. Jolly might look good for a play or two during preseason action, but he easily wears down when he starts to play down after down. The Packers just can’t afford to keep a 30-year-old Jolly, playing on a one-year contract, at the expense of younger players with budding potential. Jolly loses the support structure of a team environment, and where his life goes from there remains to be seen.
Best-case scenario: Pickett defies age and continues to play at the same high level he has for the past several seasons in Green Bay. He’s not a pass rusher, never has been and never will be. But the way he stuffs the run, swallows blockers and keeps the linebackers clean continues to be admirable at 33 years old. Pickett does his job and does it well.
Worst-case scenario: Age catches up to Pickett in his 13th season in the NFL, and he shows that he’s on his last legs. The Packers do a good job of hiding him, thanks to the depth on the defensive line, however. Pickett plays almost exclusively in the base defense and jumbo packages, which maximizes his strengths and keeps him fresh. But he plays the fewest snaps since coming to Green Bay in 2006 and his impact on the team is felt in leadership only.
Best-case scenario: The 2013 season represents Wilson’s best as a professional. His calling card remains his run defense, where he might be the best on the team. But Wilson is also to add four-plus sacks, and starts to become a well-rounded player. It goes under the radar, but entering a contract season, Wilson might be a more sought-after commodity in free agency than people might expect.
Worst-case scenario: Wilson is a one-note player. His run defense is good, not great, and only gets him so far. He always gives terrific effort, but any sacks he gets almost happen by accident. Wilson sees spot duty in the base defense and short-yardage packages, but he’s a replacement-level player in the NFL.
Best-case scenario: Neal is able to get past his abdomen injury early in training camp and goes on to have a second consecutive season largely injury-free. He picks up where he left off last season and puts up career-high sack numbers, meaning more than 4.5. Combined with Jones, they form a terrific pair of pass rushing defensive tackles in the nickel and dime packages. And with Neal getting the occasional snap at outside linebacker, his versatility becomes key.
Worst-case scenario: Same story, different year for Neal. He continues to struggle with injuries and his impact on the Packers defense is negligible. When he’s healthy, he flashes brilliance, but those moments are few and far between. He actually starts the year on the PUP list and doesn’t come back until midseason.
Best-case scenario: Daniels might be the player on the Packers roster who makes the biggest improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. His effort and quickness might only be surpassed by Clay Matthews on the Packers defense. He’s able to get five-plus sacks in 2013 and while he’s not great against the run, he holds up better than anyone would expect for a defensive lineman that’s short of 6-foot-1.
Worst-case scenario: As a pass-rush specialist, Daniels makes a modest contribution to the Packers defense, but his impact can only be measured in three or four sacks. He rarely plays in the Packers base defense or on run downs, and even when he does, Daniels is invisible.
Best-case scenario: Worthy starts the year on the PUP list but is able to make a full recovery by midseason. It takes a while for him to get up to speed, but by the end of the year, he appears to be making strides and is still fresh when everyone else is getting tired. Because he misses so many games, his cumulative season statistics aren’t impressive, but Worthy is trending upward by season’s end.
Worst-case scenario: Despite his best intentions to get back on the football field, the timeframe is too short for Worthy to make a comeback in 2013. He starts the season on the PUP list, but is eventually placed on injured reserve, much the same way the Packers did with Derek Sherrod and Andrew Quarless a year ago. The “bust” word starts cropping up in relation to Worthy.
Best-case scenario: While his impact on the field is nominal, Boyd displays potential in his rookie season in the NFL. He gets better as the season goes on as he learns the defense and his technique improves. He doesn’t receive a lot of playing time at the outset of the season, but sees more toward the end. Boyd finishes the season with a sack or two and uses his natural size to his advantage in defending the run.
Worst-case scenario: Not only is Boyd a victim of the depth along the Packers defensive line, he’s simply too raw at this point in his career. He’s exposed in preseason action, getting pushed around by savvy and veteran offensive linemen. The Packers don’t want to cut ties, however, and he’s extended an invitation to the practice squad.
Best-case scenario: As one of only three players to tip the scales at 330-plus pounds on the Packers defensive line, Pena is only an injury to Raji or Pickett away from being the backup nose tackle. He shows promise as a plus-sized run stuffer, and the Packers keep him around as insurance on the practice squad.
Worst-case scenario: Pena might show some promise, but at 26 years old, he’s overaged for an NFL rookie. The Packers decide they’re better off developing some of the younger defensive linemen on the roster like Boyd and he’s cut on the cutdown date to 75 players on Aug. 27.
Best-case scenario: Miller may fly under the radar, but he’s better than expected. He flashes during the preseason and shows why the Packers signed him to their 53-man roster late last season. He’s once again asked to be on the practice squad, meaning he’s only an injury away from making the team once again.
Worst-case scenario: There’s too many defensive linemen that are more talented than Miller on the Packers roster. He can do no better than play with the third-string, and he’s cut as part of a numbers game. His end date is on Aug. 27, the first mandatory cutdown in the NFL.
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.