Welcome to the fourth annual best and worst case scenarios for every player on the Green Bay Packers roster.
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. Think Charles Woodson last year.
I also try to take a look at what these scenarios would be from an individual standpoint and not what’s best for the team. For example, parting ways with Justin Harrell may eventually be what’s in the best interest of the Packers. I’m more interested in looking at what’s in Justin Harrell’s best interests (or worst interests for that matter).
Yesterday we looked at the offensive line. Today we’re onto the defensive line…
- Best-case scenario: What was a good season for Jenkins in his first year of learning the 3-4 defense in '09, turns into a great season in 2010. Helped largely that he's entering a contract year, Jenkins has what's considered a great statistical year for a 3-4 defensive end. He finishes with just a shade under 10 sacks, amps up his overall tackle numbers and is a general nuisance is opposing backfields. With Johnny Jolly gone, he's all but required to play the most snaps along the defensive line, being equally effective from both the end and as an inside pass rusher in the nickel and "Psycho" packages. Pro Bowl alternate.
- Worst-case scenario: Jenkins has another solid but unspectacular season. His low sack numbers are a victim of playing in a 3-4, but he's still the best pass rushing option on the team. Thanks to strong efforts by the rookies and Justin Harrell, Jenkins plays a lot less snaps as part of a rotation than in the past. Close observers of the team know he plays a valuable role on the team, he just doesn't get the publicity for it. That might help the Packers sign him to a bargain contract the following offseason, however.
- Best-case scenario: Pickett is as good a defensive end as he was a nose tackle. He's not any more of a pass rusher, but he's good at holding down the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to do their jobs. Pickett sets a career high in tackles, however, with the move. He's very active and disrupts what the offense wants to do with the running game. And it helps that he stays fresh by being frequently subbed in and out of games.
- Worst-case scenario: The five-technique position doesn't fit Pickett's skill set. He's not very good at playing in more space as he was a lot better playing in close quarters at the nose. Fans become annoyed at the long-term contract the Packers dished out to Pickett when he ends up playing very few snaps. The Packers start subbing Pickett out of the game even on first downs, and he becomes somewhat of a short-yardage specialist.
- Best-case scenario: Raji is a big part of the reason the Packers defense goes from No. 2 in the NFL in '09 to No. 1 in 2010. He's every bit the run stuffer that Ryan Pickett was, but he becomes perhaps the preeminent pass rushing nose tackle in the NFL. He only tallies somewhere around five sacks, but the push he provides up the middle is enough to collapse the pocket and disrupts the timing of opposing quarterbacks. He logs major playing time when he and Cullen Jenkins team up to become the team's primary pass-rushing tackles in nickel situations.
- Worst-case scenario: Raji is no better than he was last season. He shows flashes of big-time playmaking every once in a while, but more often he's rather invisible. It's not like he plays poorly, but he just doesn't live up to the first-round billing people expected out of him. The Packers re-evaluate the arrangement with Pickett and Raji. Maybe they were better off the way they were before.
- Best-case scenario: Ted Thompson demonstrates he knows what he's doing when Mike Neal proved to be an effective second-round draft choice. While only a rotational player, he's equally effective at stopping the run and rushing the passer as far as 3-4 defensive ends go. He occasionally plays the part of pass-rushing tackle in the nickel and is able to get surprising push into the backfield now and again. Better things are expected in future years.
- Worst-case scenario: Neal isn't a flop, but he makes people think he was over-valued as a second rounder. He's okay against the run, but he doesn't show anything resembling a pass rush. He makes the 53-man roster, but he doesn't particularly play a lot. Fans, coaches and front office personnel alike can only hope he improves as he gets older and more experienced.
- Best-case scenario: Wilson just might have been the best seventh-round draft choice in the 2010 draft and surprisingly fares even better than Mike Neal. He plays the most snaps of any player on the defensive line not named Cullen Jenkins, B.J. Raji or Ryan Pickett. Like in college, Wilson shows to be pretty good at rushing the quarterback, but he does unexpectedly well at at the duties required of a 3-4 defensive end. There's a small possibility that he could be a starter as soon as the 2011 season should Cullen Jenkins leave in free agency.
- Worst-case scenario: Wilson is miscast as a five-technique defensive end, much less an interior pass rusher. He probably was better suited as a 4-3 defensive end and just never stood out at all during training camp. He seems like a good guy that everyone wants to cheer for, but results on the field are what matters in the NFL, and Wilson doesn't have it in Green Bay. The Packers keep only six defensive linemen and Justin Harrell and Jarius Wynn are better options at this point in their career. The Packers would be happy to keep Wilson on their practice squad, but more likely, some other team picks him up off waivers.
- Best-case scenario: At long last, Harrell finally puts together a fully-healthy season. People are going to continue to bash him because he hasn't lived up to his first-round status, but he quietly has a very good season as a reserve role. He shares snaps with the other defensive ends on the roster, has value as a third-string nose tackle and has a penchant for batting down passes with his long levers. It took a while, but Harrell finally plays a meaningful role on the team.
- Worst-case scenario: Yup, you guessed it. Harrell has another setback when his repaired back just can't take the everyday pounding of training camp. Harrell makes it a few days through camp, but sooner or later, it becomes clear that football just isn't in his future. Another season on injured reserve isn't going to happen. The Packers pay the injury settlement and cut ties with Harrell.
- Best-case scenario: Wynn packs on a few more pounds and doesn't get pushed around anymore. Other pundits will point to bigger names being the most-improved players on the team, but the real winner of that title might just be Wynn. Unpredictably, he jumps ahead of the rookies and Justin Harrell on the depth chart. The stats aren't impressive, but he becomes the first player off the bench inserted into the defensive line.
- Worst-case scenario: The second-year defensive end is no better than a year ago. And now that the Packers drafted two defensive ends in this year's draft, Wynn's services are no longer needed. He was one of the last cuts to be made, but even if he made the team, he wasn't going to play anyway. And that was the deciding factor.
- Best-case scenario: After another promising preseason, Talley makes the practice squad for two years running. And if there's an injury ahead of him, he just might be signed to the 53-man roster at some point in the regular season. While he excels at no particular phase of the game, he's a consistent, solid performer that can be relied upon. He shows no ill effects from offseason ankle surgery.
- Worst-case scenario: Talley is the biggest loser when the Packers drafted two defensive linemen in April. He's no worse than last year during training camp, but he's further down the depth chart with the additions of Neal and Wilson. Talley's not even a candidate for the practice squad, however. He's plain old let go and left trying to find a new NFL team, or maybe even the UFL.
- Best-case scenario: There's always going to be room for a third-string nose tackle on the practice squad but not on the 53-man roster. Toribio fills that same role as a year ago, and once again, if either Ryan Pickett or B.J. Raji gets hurt, only then will he have an opportunity to be promoted to the big time.
- Worst-case scenario: Toribio is passed up by rookie Aleric Mullins being the third-string nose tackle. And that means there's no room for him on practice squad this year. Toribio is just another roster casualty.
- Best-case scenario: Mullins picks up where he left off at rookie orientation camp when he convinced the Packers to offer him a contract. He steps ahead of Anthony Toribio and is able to earn a spot on the practice squad for his efforts. He too just might be able to earn a job with the Packers if either Pickett or Raji get hurt.
- Worst-case scenario: Training camp body. Mullins tries as hard as possible, but he shows why he wasn't originally signed as a priority free agent after the draft. He's cut and not offered a spot on the practice squad.
- Best-case scenario: Jolly's suspension serves as a real wake-up call. He keeps his nose clean, serves any jail time or community service passed down by the court of law, and even manages to show up on trial in a sport coat. There's many reservations about bringing Jolly back, but he's rewarded by the Packers for his behavior and patience by being brought back into the fold next season.
- Worst-case scenario: There's no change in Jolly's behavior. He continues to hang out with the same crowd in Texas and displays the same thug persona. He's a talented football player, but the Packers deem him too risky to bring back to their locker room environment. He's let go when his suspension is done. With his obvious talent, someone's liable to give him a second chance, but it's not going to be Ted Thompson.
Check back tomorrow for a preview of the inside linebackers.
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