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Best & Worst Case Scenarios For The Outside Linebackers

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Best & Worst Case Scenarios For The Outside Linebackers

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 inside linebackers. Today we're onto the outside linebackers...

Clay Matthews

  • Best-case scenario: Matthews goes from good to elite. Considering that Matthews didn't even start until the fourth game of last season, he can easily be more productive than last season. He's the league leader in sacks and is a first-team All-Pro thanks to a fantastic supporting cast that makes the Packers the No. 1 overall defense in 2010. What makes the difference is a couple more plays like the one he made last year when he recovered a fumble and took it in for a touchdown against the Vikings. Game-changing types of plays like those become expected out of Matthews.
  • Worst-case scenario: The dreaded sophomore slump occurs due to a variety of reasons. First, he's double-teamed more often this season. Maybe opponents catch on to what made Matthews so good as a rookie and are able to neutralize his effectiveness. And just maybe Matthews isn't able to diversify his game enough in order to become even better. We're not talking about dropping off the face of the planet, however. But only six, seven or eight sacks while starting 16 games is considered a disappointment.

Brad Jones

  • Best-case scenario: Jones continues to improve by leaps and bounds. For as well as he played in seven starts at the end of last season, he builds upon that experience and takes it up a notch. Eight or more sacks isn't out of the question, but he becomes a well-rounded player as well. The added weight to his frame allows him to play the run better but his overall athleticism is still good enough to play decent in pass coverage. Jones looks like a fixture as a starter at right outside linebacker for years to come.
  • Worst-case scenario: Just a guy. Jones is the best option available to the Packers but not so good to think that he can't be replaced. Whatever flashes were seen from Jones last season were just about the upper limits of what he's capable of doing. He has five or so sacks but is just an ordinary pass rusher capable of being handled by the opponent's right tackle without much if any help. The Packers need to bring in another outside linebacker next season either through the draft of free agency. Stat!

Brady Poppinga

  • Best-case scenario: Even though Poppinga only has three or so sacks by the end of the year, that doesn't mean he's not fulfilling a very valuable role. He's better against the run than Brad Jones and takes some of those snaps away from him. For a team that's among the NFL's best at stopping the run, that can't be overlooked even though it's not flashy. He even creates a turnover or two and he continues to play a prominent role on special teams. There's a place for Brady Poppinga on the Packers.
  • Worst-case scenario: Brady Poppinga is a good guy that's everything you want all your football players to be as a teammate and off the field. Unfortunately, that's not good enough to do the job on the field. Compared to every other NFL linebacker, Poppinga is below average in all facets of the game. He can't rush the passer, he's a liability in coverage, and he's only marginally better than Brad Jones in run support, which isn't good enough to take snaps away from him. Poppinga may not be playing for the Packers in 2011, although he sticks around simply because of his experience in 2010.

Cyril Obiozor

  • Best-case scenario: Not only does Obiozor show potential, he shows he's capable of possibly starting in the NFL at some point in his career. When he shows he's a better option than Brady Poppinga on a team that doesn't have much depth at outside linebacker, Obiozor gets a few chances to show what he's got on defense in 2010. While contributing a couple sacks, he has everyone wondering what he's capable of in the future. He also becomes a player on special teams.
  • Worst-case scenario: Obiozor falls behind Robert Francois in the pecking order, and the coaching staff thinks this year's undrafted rookies might be better options as well. What seemed like such a promising young player a year ago, he gets lost in the shuffle this season and never really seriously competes for a roster spot. He's cut without much fanfare. His failure to do anything noteworthy in the preseason games, when all eyes are upon him, gets few objections.

Robert Francois

  • Best-case scenario: Francois continues to work ahead of Cyril Obiozor just like he did in training camp, which allows him to earn a spot on the 53-man roster at a position without a lot of quality depth. He might actually be a better option than Brady Poppinga as well, which really put him next in line to Clay Matthews and Brad Jones in the starting lineup. He may not play a big role in 2010, but he gets his feet wet on both defense and special teams, which puts him in a good spot to contribute even more the following season.
  • Worst-case scenario: Francois can't crack the two-deep when he's a step behind both Poppinga and Obiozor. In fact, Frank Zombo and John Russell are probably better alternatives. Hurting him the most may be that he he's unable to impress on special teams, nearly a requisite for a third-string linebacker. Francois is cut before Sept. 4 when the Packers have to be down to the 53 players they take into the regular season.

Frank Zombo

  • Best-case scenario: Zombo is this year's undrafted rookie that makes the 53-man roster. He shows promise during both training camp practices and the exhibition season by displaying a penchant to get to the quarterback. He provides great value and could be a pass rush specialist in the NFL. He doesn't play much in his rookie season, but he is occasionally active on game days where he plays on special teams and gets a few snaps on defense. There will be a lot more attention on him a year from now.
  • Worst-case scenario: Zombo might have been able to cut it at Central Michigan, but that's worlds apart from cutting it with the Green Bay Packers. He's extremely overwhelmed by players bigger, better and more physical than him. He looks like he doesn't belong from the beginning of training camp onward. He's put on waivers.

John Russell

  • Best-case scenario: Apart from the steep learning curve it takes for Russell to make the transition from defensive tackle in college to outside linebacker in the pros, it looks like he has some real potential. At the very least, he shows more than Frank Zombo, which is good enough to make the practice squad. Russell could become the next Spencer Havner who put some time in on the practice squad to eventually making the team down the road.
  • Worst-case scenario: The game is too quick for the former defensive tackle. He has the quickness, but not the point-to-point speed it takes to chase down running backs,  quarterbacks and tight ends in the pros. Russell appears miscast as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and he'll have to try another team and probably another position that's better fit to his skill set after he's cut.

Others

  • Best-case scenario: Either Cullen Jenkins, Brandon Chillar or Nick Barnett steps up and plays surprisingly well as a situational pass rusher. They may not be the ideal candidates to man the position, but they see some success due to Dom Capers' creative subpackages that put them in a position to make plays.
  • Worst-case scenario: An attempt to get some extra pass rush from some non-traditional outside linebackers is experimented with during the month of August but has little success. The Packers scraps any such plans during the regular season when they realize they're better off with their typical personnel.
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (5) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Robert Greenfield's picture

Clay Matthews as the sack leader...as bold as that is, it could actually happen. EX-CIT-ING!

bogmon's picture

it sure could!

PackersRS's picture

Only if someone else (Jenkins, Raji, Jones) proves also to be a force. If CM3 is double-teamed the whole time, no way he gets more than 10 sacks.

But if someone else can bring enough hit to take double-teams off of him, then he's gold.

angryminnow's picture

Alot tougher to double an outside linebacker than a defensive end. Way more ways for a 3-4 team to counter. Don't see it as a problem for Matthews even if the others don't become a prominant pass rushers.

andrew's picture

for the record i love these and love putting forth my opinion despite it being meaningless. matthews and jones are the guys cant see it being any other way. poppinga is definitely the number 3 at the start of the year.. and will be rotated in as for the young ones.. i think francois is gonna be a shocker i dont see him as a special teams threat. but i see him being a quality guy in a few years.. and i dont see zombo ever becoming anythin more than someone who gets rotated in. no worries about whether he stays or goes. obiozor is solid probably will be a better option than poppinga as a rotation guy later in the season once he has gotten some reps but i see him having a lot of trade value if jones steps up and has gotten a little bigger he might get traded in a year or so with two young starters you would think they wouldnt hesitate to trade the large number of young guys they brought in at olb once they decide if its jones or obiozor or even francois possibly... i would be shocked to see anyone other than jones when playoffs come around tho he showed a lot of good things last year

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