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: Hawk has his limitations, but he's good at what he does. He's healthy, he's assignment-sure, and he gets ball carriers down, even if it's not always pretty. He may not lead the league in any categories, but when Hawk gets a handful of sacks, forced fumbles, recoveries and interceptions, they have a positive cumulative impact on the team. By season's end, Hawk leads the team in tackles and has his best season since 2010 when he had over 100 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes broken up.
Worst-case scenario: It's the same old story with Hawk. There's a lot of things to like about him, like the fact that he's always healthy and a good leader, but they don't mean a whole lot because he's an average athlete and he fails to make impact plays. His string of not having a single forced fumble extends to six seasons and not grabbing an interception extends to three seasons. The Packers just can't keep younger and more talented players off the field, and by the end of the season, Hawk is replaced in the starting lineup.
Best-case scenario: Entering his fifth season in the NFL and his second as a full-time inside linebacker, Jones makes the biggest jump of his career. He's clearly more comfortable in himself and his responsibilities, and it shows out on the field. Jones sets new career highs in nearly every statistical category: tackles, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries. He may not earn post-season honors like the Pro Bowl because he's not a big-name player, but he probably deserves it.
Worst-case scenario: Last year Jones impressed observers because expectations were low. This year when expectations are much higher, he's a mild disappointment. Jones is much the same player as last year, but just like Hawk, he's lacking in impact plays. Considering Jones is a three-down player, the absence of big plays is especially concerning. It looks as if the younger players on the roster may be more deserving of playing time.
Best-case scenario: Manning is able to put last year's health scare behind him and really show people what he's capable of doing. With a year of experience under his belt, Manning is playing instead of thinking out on the field, and he's able to make those plays that make people go 'Wow' during training camp and the preseason. Because he's inexperienced, he doesn't get a lot of playing time early in the year, but as the season wears on, he's receiving just as much playing time as Jones and Hawk.
Worst-case scenario: Outside of special teams, Manning just kind of languishes on the roster. He's active every game day and plays on nearly every special teams unit, but he just doesn't see the field on defense behind Hawk and Jones. There's reason to believe he'll be a good player if given the chance and does so in the rare opportunities he receives.
Best-case scenario: Barrington exceeds expectations as a seventh-round draft pick and shows that he might have been overlooked in the draft process. He's one of those linebackers who provides needed value on special teams, as a speedy and tough tackler, taking down return men on both kickoffs and punts. He particularly impresses on defense during the preseason, but his regular season playing time comes sparingly. Regardless, he's the third-best inside linebacker on the roster by the end of the year.
Worst-case scenario: While Barrington shows some promise, he's still raw. For every good thing he does during training camp, he seems to make a mistake. When Barrington makes a good play, however, they look really good. If he can just become more consistent, he'll be a threat for more playing time. Until that time, Barrington acts a reserve during the regular season. He makes the 53-man roster, but only is occasionally active on game days.
Best-case scenario: Now that Lattimore is entering his second season as a full-time inside linebacker, he looks much more comfortable at the position. He's able to play with the second-string behind Jones and Hawk and doesn't disappoint, and he might be the best backup on the roster. Lattimore also continues his role as a special teams captain and is one of the most indispensable players on that unit.
Worst-case scenario: Lattimore is viewed as a special teams leader, but that's about as far as his role on the Packers goes. He provides depth at inside linebacker, even outside linebacker in a pinch, but he rarely––if ever––sees playing time on the defensive side of the football. He makes the 53-man roster, but his impact is nil.
Best-case scenario: Francois relies upon his experience to be one of the top backups on the team behind Jones and Hawk. He may not have the athletic ability and physical tools of some of the younger players on the team, but he knows what he's doing. If either of the starters get injured, it's Francois coming into the game. While not spectacular, he holds his own. He makes special teams contributions, just like he has for the past several seasons.
Worst-case scenario: Francois is his usual solid self, but nearly all the younger inside linebackers on the team show more upside. When five roster spots are taken up by other inside linebackers, there's just not room to keep Francois around. He'll be remembered for being a member of the Super Bowl XLV team, but he's cut at the end of training camp.
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.