It's time for the eighth 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: After Shields got paid as a top-tier cornerback in the NFL, he starts to play like one. It begins with him playing and starting all 16 games for the first time in his career. When healthy, it's not difficult for Shields to play at an extremely high level, letting his speed and talent take over. He sets career-highs in nearly every statistical category highlighted by a half dozen interceptions, breaking on more passes than ever seen before. But Shields also sets new highs in tackles and passes defended too. The first Pro Bowl berth of Shields' career comes his way.
Worst-case scenario: Now that Shields got a contract paying him nearly $10 million per season, he becomes unmotivated. He's far from the worst cornerback in the NFL, but he isn't worth what the Packers are paying him. The statistical output is diappointingly low with merely two or three interceptions, but worse yet is the effort. Shields' willingness to tackle goes to the wayside, preferring to avoid contact. And he unfortunately gets beat deep more than the Packers would prefer, getting caught peeking into the backfield—an old habit that continues in 2014.
Best-case scenario: Williams picks up where he left off in the final eight games of last season (including playoffs), intercepting four passes over that time frame. At 31 years old, he's no longer capable of having a season like he did in 2010 when the Packers won the Super Bowl, but Williams still has one effective last go-around in the final year of his contract, motivated by a return to glory. He can still pick off four or more interceptions, and with his old shoulder injury in the rearview mirror, he's plays with more physicality than he has in years, putting his body on the line in making tackles.
Worst-case scenario: Whatever good play the Packers get from Williams, it comes from veteran savvy, because it appears his body is on the verge of breaking down, at least relative to the elite level needed to play in the NFL. Williams begins the season as a starter, but by mid-season he loses hold on that job to either Casey Hayward or Davon House, who are entering the prime of their career while Williams is on the down-slide. Even though it becomes apparent 2013 is Williams' swan song in Green Bay, fans can take solace that he's still capable of making a critical impact play or two that can help the Packers win a few games.
Best-case scenario: The hamstring problems that plagued Hayward a year ago don't re-occur, allowing him to reprise his rookie season in the NFL. He's not only the team's slot cornerback, but before season's end, Hayward overtakes Williams in the starting lineup, allowed to play the perimeter of the field when the Packers are in their base defense. Hayward is easily able to match his six interceptions from 2012, gaining a reputation as one of the top emerging cornerbacks in the NFL.
Worst-case scenario: Hayward is an effective slot cornerback, but he's seemingly effective solely in that role. Whenever given the opportunity to play as a perimeter cornerback—whether the preseason or the regular season—Hayward fails, getting beat by receivers with speed. Although he's able to intercept a handful of passes, his six interceptions of 2012 seem like a fluke. Micah Hyde might actually be the better slot defender between the two players.
Best-case scenario: Motivated by entering the final year of his rookie contract, House has the finest year of his professional career. Despite being blocked on the depth chart, House out-plays nearly all those ahead of him. Following a terrific preseason campaign and solid play in a reserve role early in the season, the Packers can't afford to keep House off the field at the expense of an aging Williams. House easily sets career-highs in nearly every statistical category, most notably, at least four interceptions.
Worst-case scenario: With Shields, Williams and Hayward all living up to expectations, House can't beat out those ahead of him on the depth chart at cornerback and as such, plays only a limited role on defense. His biggest contributions come on special teams, but even those are merely mediocre. By the end of the season, it would appear House's days in Green Bay are over when the younger cornerbacks on the roster show more long-term promise.
Best-case scenario: Bush is his usual, valuable self on special teams, and the leader of the unit. But somehow, some way, he also manages to carve out a small role on defense in the team's dime package, not unlike a year ago. Just like the game he harrassed Tony Gonzalez in 2013, Bush has another moment in the spotlight, making a key play at a crucial moment. It may or may not be Bush's final season in Green Bay, but if it is, he goes out on a high note.
Worst-case scenario: Age seems to catch up to Bush, evident in his special teams play, which isn't at the same level it used to be. Not only does Bush not see time on the defensive side of the football, he's no longer the special teams ace on the team either. He manages to spend the entire year on the regular-season roster, but it's clear 2014 will be his last season in Green Bay by year's end.
Best-case scenario: Buoyed by an impressive showing in training camp and the preseason, Goodson earns a spot on the Packers' 53-man roster. He has difficulty earning playing time with so many talented players ahead of him at the cornerback position, but he's a special teams regular. Even in limited action, Goodson still managed to come up with a regular-season interception, hinting that he's in line for a bigger role in upcoming seasons, especially if Williams, House and Bush all move on.
Worst-case scenario: Goodson seems to be a bust as a sixth-round draft choice. Routinely beat throughout the month of August—both in practice and in exhibition games—Goodson can't buy a good showing. The other, lower-profile cornerbacks on roster, such as Jumal Rolle and Antonio Dennard display more potential, making Goodson expendable. The rookie hits the waiver wire at the end of training camp without so much as an invitation to the practice squad.
Best-case scenario: Rolle builds off his 2013 season when he was promoted to the team's 53-man roster in December of 2013. Thanks to spending an entire offseason spent in the Packers' program, he's able to make some major strides, and it shows in the preseason, when he's able to pick off at least one pass. In addition to strong special teams play, Rolle is able to grab one of the final spots on the 53-man roster, even though regular-season playing time comes sparingly. Still, he shows raw potential.
Worst-case scenario: More than anything, Rolle is a victim of a deep position group, because he doesn't necessarily look bad in training camp. It's more a case of him being invisible, not standing out, which isn't necessarily bad for a cornerback, but not enough to earn a job on the 53-man roster. There's no room for Rolle in Green Bay, but he hasn't signed his final NFL contract.
Best-case scenario: Dennard's time is expectedly marked by up and down play in training camp, but there are enough flash plays to think he's worth developing. There's definitely no room on the regular-season roster, but Dennard is invited back for a second stint on the Packers' practice squad after being released at the end of training camp.
Worst-case scenario: There's few positives about Dennard's summer in Green Bay. He makes no impact plays, and the only memories of him in the preseason are getting beat for receptions by opposing wide receivers. He can't make it beyond the team's mandated cutdown date to 75 players.
Best-case scenario: Thanks to his versatility as both a cornerback and a safety in college, White holds more value than some of the other longshots on the team like Rolle and Dennard. After a surprisingly solid preseason showing, White earns an invite to the Green Bay practice squad, where he can continue to learn and grow as a professional football player.
Worst-case scenario: Doing little to stand out, White's training camp is remembered more for the times he got beat by receivers than any notable interceptions or even pass break-ups for that matter. White can't make it as far as the fourth preseason game, cut in training camp before it concludes.
Next in the series is the safeties.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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