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: Last season Josh Sitton was named to his first-ever Pro Bowl team as an injury replacement. This year he's voted in as a starter, and an All-Pro too. He handles the transition from left guard to right guard seamlessly as Aaron Rodgers' backside is protected better than ever before. Thanks in part to Sitton, the Packers can also run to the left side of the offensive line to a better extent than they ever could in 2012.
Worst-case scenario: If it's not broken, don't fix it. Or you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Whatever platitude you want to use. It's not as if Sitton is a failure on the left side of the offensive line, but clearly he was more comfortable on the right side where he spent the first five seasons in professional football. He's still an above-average NFL offensive lineman, but he plays at a lower level this year than he did when he was on the right side.
Best-case scenario: Another year of experience under his belt means Lang takes yet another step up in his professional progression. It looks like he's been playing right guard for years, performing at nearly as high a level as Sitton did at the position. Lang gives up far fewer pressures and sacks than he did in 2012, which prevents Rodgers from taking a beating. It helps that he doesn't struggle through an elbow issue like he did a year ago.
Worst-case scenario: Lang is a capable NFL lineman, but he continues to allow more of a pass rush than he should. He continues to struggle with quick defensive tackles, looking like a turnstile from time to time and allowing more hits to the quarterback than he should. It doesn't help that Lang is flanked by the weak links on the offensive line at center and right tackle, and that side of the line in general doesn't perform nearly as well as the Packers would like.
Best-case scenario: For the first time in his career, Dietrich-Smith is the unquestioned starter at center, which allows him to focus on that position and no longer at guard. He also enters a contract season, which spurs him to the best season of his career in hopes of big payday. It's the perfect storm, so to speak, and Dietrich-Smith entrenches himself as the center of the present and future in Green Bay. He's easily an upgrade over Jeff Saturday from a year ago.
Worst-case scenario: Dietrich-Smith is the starter at center in Green Bay only because the Packers have nowhere else to turn. Compared to other NFL centers, "EDS" is below average and probably wouldn't be worthy of starting on most other teams in the league. He doesn't provide much of a push in the run game and allows too much pressure on the quarterback. The Packers can survive with Dietrich-Smith manning the pivot position, but it's doubtful they want him beyond 2013.
Best-case scenario: The Packers are in good hands at right tackle with some combination of Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod and David Bakhtiari, so Barclay becomes not only the top backup at center, but at all of the three interior offensive line positions. If any out of Sitton, Lang or Dietrich-Smith gets hurt, it's Barclay coming into the game. It doesn't hurt that he also has the versatility to play tackle if needed, but Barclay is better on the interior. He's the sixth-best offensive lineman on the team and on par with the other starting-caliber linemen.
Worst-case scenario: The experiment with Barclay at center is a disaster. He's a decent offensive lineman, but his inexperience at the position is just too much too overcome. Fumbled exchanges and botched shotgun snaps become a regular occurrence at training camp, and eventually the Packers cut their losses and keep Barclay strictly at guard and tackle. He's a top backup on the Packers offensive line.
Greg Van Roten
Best-case scenario: When the experiment with Barclay doesn't work out, Van Roten is the primary beneficiary. The team needs someone to backup Dietrich-Smith and Van Roten is the best candidate. He seems more comfortable at center than anyone else, and he doesn't have nearly as many problems snapping the football as Barclay. To be sure, Van Roten still has a long way to go to become a complete NFL lineman, but out of necessity, he's one of the seven linemen keep active on game days.
Worst-case scenario: While Van Roten might have a little more experience at center than Barclay, he's not nearly as good of a player. In terms of pure blocking, Barclay––whether in the pass or the run game––Barclay blows him away. The Packers decide they're going to continue to develop Barclay at center even if it takes time, and Van Roten is third-string at best. There's just not room to keep him on the 53-man roster, and they'd rather keep a guy like Lane Taylor on the practice squad.
Best-case scenario: Taylor is the best undrafted free agent the Packers signed in 2013. He may not be much of a center, but he's probably the best guard on the team outside of Sitton and Lang. The Packers decide they can't afford to cut him and let another team steal him away, so he's able to make the 53-man roster. He may not get a ton of regular season playing time, but he gains invaluable experience and could see playing time at guard should anyone get hurt.
Worst-case scenario: It hurts Taylor's chances that he's pretty much a pure guard. The team might be testing him out at center, but he just doesn't have what it takes. To find a roster spot as a backup in the NFL, you have to be able to be versatile and at least at this point in his career, Taylor is not. The Packers decide, however, to invest time into his development by carrying him on their practice squad.
Best-case scenario: He may not be one of the seven or eight best linemen on the team, but Gerhart might be No. 9. He's able to backup all three of the positions on the interior of the offensive line, which only helps his cause. And being on the practice squad briefly last season, he has a slight edge in his knowledge of the Packers offense compared to the other rookies. He's asked to be on the practice squad once again, thanks in large part to the uncertainty at the backup center position in Green Bay.
Worst-case scenario: Compared to Barclay, Van Roten, Taylor and even Patrick Lewis, Gerhart is probably a step behind all of them. The gap in talent becomes apparent in preseason games when he's one of the weak links on the Packers offensive line. The Packers decide they're better off giving his reps to someone else and he's released by the cutdown date to 75 players on Aug. 27.
Best-case scenario: There's definitely a comfort level with Lewis coming out of college as a pure center. While he faces a steep learning curve in the NFL, Lewis displays promise and is a player worth developing. Whenever he gets an opportunity in preseason action, he makes it count. He's invited onto the practice squad where he continues to learn the game makes strides in the weight room.
Worst-case scenario: Lewis started the season at the bottom of the depth chart and can't seem to climb his way out of the basement. The other players on the roster ahead of him are clearly more talented, and he's a work-in-progress at any position other than center. Lewis makes it only as far as the first cutdown date in Green Bay.
Best-case scenario: Tretter starts the season on the PUP list, but remarkably heals by midseason or so. He'll need every one of the nine weeks he's afforded on the PUP list, but he's eventually activated to the 53-man roster by the Packers. They don't trust Tretter enough to give him much playing time, but at least he makes a full recovery.
Worst-case scenario: The 2013 season is essentially a wasted one for Tretter. He's placed on the PUP list, but he needs a longer time period to recover from a broken ankle suffered earlier in the offseason. He's eventually placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Tretter will give it another go-around in 2014.
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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