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Best & Worst Case Scenarios: 2013 Packers Inside Linebackers

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Best & Worst Case Scenarios: 2013 Packers Inside Linebackers

Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. Photo by Corey Behnke of CheeseheadTV.com.

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.

A.J. Hawk

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.

Brad Jones

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.

Terrell Manning

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.

Sam Barrington

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.

Jamari Lattimore

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.

Rob Francois

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

Quarterbacks July 29

Running backs July 30

Wide receivers July 31

Tight ends August 1

Offensive tackles August 2

Interior offensive linemen August 3

Defensive linemen August 4

Outside linebackers August 5

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 carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (12) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

hayward4president's picture

Watched a lot of Mannings tape.....how is he not playing more?

UP-Packer's picture

"by the end of the season, Hawk is replaced in the starting lineup."

Won't happen. He's TT's boy forever and a day. Plus, who would replace him?

Ma linger's picture

Never impressed with Hawk. Think he has an issue with tackling straight on. Reason he is never hurt is he avoids collisions by not being where the runner is.
You watch game film of him and you will see that he is often the third guy on the pile. His solo tackle numbers have to be pathetic.
McCarthy loves the guy though or he would have been gone three years ago.

steven's picture

Don't laugh, but my bet is Sam Barrington. Dudes vicious

PackerNation's picture

The antipathy towards Hawk...who's almost certain to be in the Packer HOF some day...astounds me. This guy has been the leading, or second leading tackler on the team every year. He's missed TWO games in his career because of injury. He practices. He leads by example. He takes a pay cut to stay on the team. He does the tough, thankless stuff inside.

But no....he needs to be on ESPN more. More highlight plays. More flash.

I'm delighted to have a guy like this in the middle of the defense. When we've got somebody better, then that's great. Right now, and for the last several years, we haven't.

PadLevel's picture

Good is the enemy of Great - so said Jim Collins. That applies very well to AJ Hawk. He is "Good enough" for the Packers, so there is no chance that they take the risk of looking at someone who could be great. Hawk is a below average linebacker who could never be a starting LB in any other super bowl contender. He knows this well and hence took the paycut. Its the ignorant, casual fans who can't see how mediocre a player he really is.

Stroh's picture

Great has to show up in practice to take his job. So far that hasn't happened.

PackerNation's picture

"Don't let great be the enemy of good". That's the quote. It's a reference to the Golden Mean.

I'll tell you this: Hawk was probably the best inside linebacker in the division last year. Not Urlacher, not Henderson, not Tulloch.

I'm not an "ignorant, casual fan". I'm a guy who got paid money for coaching football teams. That's why I'll take a dependable guy who I know will suit up and take care of his responsibilities rather than a "playmaker" who is too banged up to play or practice all the time.

PadLevel's picture

Hawk was the best linebacker in the division last year? Some good stuff you are smoking there...

You were paid to coach teams and you believe Hawk "the dependable" guy is all it takes to be a Superbowl contender? He is "dependable" because he is never hurt. And he is never hurt because he rarely sacrifices his body to take the punishing hits. Our star linebacker has not forced a fumble in last 3 seasons - for all his "dependability". You can be a AJ Hawk fan, I realize that there are people who are AJ Hawk fans for non-football reasons, but to call him the best linebacker in the division?

PackerNation's picture

Explain to me what other interior linebacker in our division was better, and why?

We know he doesn't make turnover plays. Is that what it's all about?

Your stuff about him not taking the punishing hits is nonsense. He sacrifices his body plenty taking on the lead blockers. That's why they play him on the strong side.

And no, dependable players are not all you need, but you don't win without them.

KennyPayne's picture

Hawk has been a liability -- on the field on on the balance sheet. Terrible in pass coverage. Awful blitzed. Almost never forces a turnover. Playing ILB he is supposed to be a physical presence. Instead, he is marshmellow soft.

However, like Mason Crosby TT drafted him and then showered him with a huge (and in no way deserved) second contract.

We get to see another year of AJ jumping on the pile 6+ yards past the line of scrimmage.

Easily the most overrated/overpaid Packer of the past 20 years.

PackerNation's picture

Well, Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, Dom Capers and Winston Moss all seem to have a higher opinion of Hawk than you do.

So either you don't know what you're talking about, or you're smarter than all of them put together.

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