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: Burnett bounces back from a subpar 2013 season and lives up to his five-year, $26 million contract he signed last offseason. He sets career-highs in most statistical categories, which isn't that difficult since Burnett has yet to really have a breakout season. By season's end, he grabs at least four interceptions, makes more than 120 tackles and breaks up double-digit passes. The safety position, as a result, is far more productive than it was a year ago.
Worst-case scenario: The slide in production that Burnett endured in 2013 continues into 2014. Slowed in training camp by a nagging ankle injury, the Packers decide to pair Micah Hyde and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as their starting safety tandem. Burnett's roster spot isn't in jeopardy so soon after signing a long-term contract extension, but playing only a backup role, he doesn't come anywhere close to deserving what he earns. With Hyde and Clinton-Dix under contract for the foreseeable future, Burnett's time in Green Bay appears to be coming to a close.
Best-case scenario: The transition from cornerback to safety is a successful one, both for Hyde as an individual and the Packers as a team. The defense is much better off than they were a season ago with Hyde playing a full-time role, especially with his nose for the football. He has the kind of production the Packers always hoped they'd get out of Burnett, namely at least four interceptions, 120 tackles and multiple forced fumbles. Hyde also has at least one touchdown in the return game, becoming one of the most valuable of the players, able to have an impact on the game in several different fashions.
Worst-case scenario: Hyde becomes the versatile "Jack of all Trades, Master of None." The Packers decide to make Burnett and Clinton-Dix their starters at safety, relegating Hyde to backup status. With Casey Hayward locked in as one of the slot cornerbacks, the only regular playing time Hyde gets on defense is in the dime defensive package. On special teams, Hyde shares time with DuJuan Harris on kickoffs returns and Randall Cobb on punt returns, never holding onto the job by himself.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Best-case scenario: Clinton-Dix plays to his strength as the safety with the best range on the team, earning one of the spots in starting lineup next to either Hyde or Burnett. While he suffers from a handful of inevitable rookie mistakes, Clinton-Dix lives up to his first-round billing. He delivers on his promise with three or four interceptions, and he brings stability by patrolling the deep end, rarely allowing any long receptions to be made in his area of the field. His first-season in the NFL ends with being named to the league's All-Rookie team.
Worst-case scenario: Clinton-Dix continues the trend of Packers first round draft picks failing to make an impact in their rookie season, not unlike Derek Sherrod, Nick Perry and Datone Jones the past three seasons. When Burnett and Hyde are named the starting safeties, the most Clinton-Dix can do is carve out a role in the team's dime defensive package, his contributions only modest. There's reason to believe Clinton-Dix's best seasons are yet to come, but in his first season, his biggest role is on special teams.
Best-case scenario: Thanks to a strong training camp and a similary solid preseason campaign, Richardson makes a compelling case to play a role on the Packers' defense. Despite more invested into all of the top three safeties on the depth chart ahead of him, the Packers can't afford to allow Richardson to linger on the bench. He doesn't become a starter, but they do figure out a way to get him involved in the defensive subpackages, while also being a special teams regular. Richardson has arguably the best season of any safety on the team, becoming a tackling machine and making a handful of interceptions.
Worst-case scenario: While Richardson looks more comfortable than at any other point in his career, he just can't seem to find any playing time ahead of the three safeties ahead of him on the depth chart. The Packers carry Richardson on their 53-man roster, but the only playing time he receives outside of special teams is if one of the other safeties get injured. He's listed on the team's gameday inactive list on and off throughout the season, making his contributions limited at best.
Best-case scenario: Entering his second season in the Packers' defensive system, Banjo is a better player than a year ago because of his experience. He takes advantage of the rare opportunities he receives during the preseason with impressive play, but his ticket to a roster spot is being a special-team regular on nearly every unit. He gets little, if any, regular season playing time on defense, but the Packers find he's worth keeping on his special teams merit alone. He makes the 53-man roster as one of the last players on the roster bubble.
Worst-case scenario: The victim of an increasingly deep position in Green Bay, Banjo can't seem to do better than find himself on the third-string defense in Green Bay during the month of August. Banjo also does himself no favors whenever he gets rare playing time during the preseason, he does nothing with it. The Packers were in a spot of desperation when they signed Banjo last season, but now that they've accumulated sufficient depth, he's no longer worth keeping around.
Best-case scenario: Thanks to his 4.4 speed, Clay flashes during the preseason, making a solid tackle here and a interception there. He also impresses on special teams. There's no room for him on the team's 53-man roster, but when Clay shows more promise than either Banjo or fellow rookie Tanner Miller, the Packers find he's worth keeping around for further development on the practice squad, being only an injury away from a promotion to the 53-man roster during the regular season.
Worst-case scenario: Clay's speed can't make up for his lack of height. At just 5' 10", he seemingly gets beat by taller receivers with stunning regularity during training camp, which carries over to the preseason. With the ball traveling over his head so frequently, the Packers cut Clay at the end of training camp but no practice squad invitations are forthcoming.
Best-case scenario: Miller puts his ankle injury suffered early in training camp behind him to have a solid preseason. He's able to escape the first round of NFL-mandated roster cuts following the third preseason game, buying himself one more week of exposure. Unfortuantely, it ends by being waived at the end of training camp.
Worst-case scenario: The ankle injury Miller sustained early in camp lingers throughout the month of August, rarely allowing him to practice or get an opportunity in preseason games. When he does get a chance, Miller does little with it, getting beat by opposing receivers more often than not. The Packers carry Miller only as far as the cutdown date to 75 players, at which point they part ways.
Next in the series is the specialists.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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