He is admired for his hard-nosed, physical style of play, a style that is missing in the current Packers’ defense. Sure he records a solid number of tackles per game, as he should playing the most important position on the defensive side of the ball.
The truth is, Hawk isn’t a NFL caliber starting inside/middle linebacker.
The Packers drafted A.J. Hawk with the No. 5 pick overall in the 2006 NFL draft. He was selected in front of players such as: Vernon Davis, Donte Whitner, Haloti Ngata, Tamba Hali, Antonio Cromartie, Nick Mangold and Santonio Holmes. There was a ton of talent and other options for the Packers to consider with that draft choice.
In hindsight it might be easy to say that the Packers made the wrong pick back in 2006 — Hawk had one of the more decorated careers at Ohio State. He was the 2005 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, 2004 and 2005 consensus All-America, top six in Heisman voting in 2005 and fourth in the Big Ten with 121 tackles in 2005. However, history tells us that talented players in the Big Ten don’t necessarily translate to the NFL. For example for every Charles and Rod Woodson that come from the Big Ten, there is a Ron Dayne, Courtney Brown, Charles Rogers, Robert Gallery, Tony Mandarich and Archie Griffin. Regardless of position, the Big Ten is not the place to go to for first-round talent on a consistent basis.
The game is slower in the Big Ten, where running the ball and playing “power football” is a way of life. Hawk was well-suited for that type of game, but that isn’t the style in the NFL. The NFL is more of a spread-type offensive game, one that uses every yard of the field both horizontally and vertically. One that is suited for quick, athletic linebackers, something Hawk is not.
Pro Football Focus is a website that breaks down every play by every player in the NFL over the course of the season. They are considered the bible for statistical analysis and is used by networks such as ESPN, NFL Network, FOX and CBS to name a few. In eight seasons, PFF has never graded Hawk positively.
Thus far in his career, Hawk’s claim to fame is his ability to stay on the field. Don’t get me wrong, that is a very vital component to a player’s game, especially with the injury history of the Packers over the past few seasons, but it’s not the most important factor. He’s been to one Pro Bowl (2010) otherwise, he hasn’t earned any significant awards in the NFL.
Many players have one part of their game that they do particularly well; for Hawk, it is tough to distinguish what that is.
In the run game Hawk is a bit too small at 6’1″ 241 pounds to hang with the big offensive linemen of the NFL. On a consistent basis, Hawk gets lost in the flow of a run. He makes up for his lack of size with his nastiness. He may not be the biggest guy on the field, but he fights his you-know-what-off every play — an admirable trait, but not enough to be worthy of a starting job in the NFL.
In the passing game, Hawk has been at his worst. This season alone Hawk’s stats in the passing game have mirrored his career performance in the passing game. In four games, Hawk has been targeted 14 times, he has allowed 12 catches for 124 yards and one touchdown. When targeting Hawk in the passing game, quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 127.4, which is 40 points higher than the NFL average, which is around 85-87.
There is a lot to be said about Hawk and his ability to stay healthy and the way he conducts himself off the field. His charity work in the Green Bay and Northeast Wisconsin area have done wonders for cancer research. By all accounts he is a class act and a perfect fit for the organization off the field.
The Packers have considered parting ways with Hawk a number of times in the past, most recently this offseason when Hawk accepted a $1.85 million pay cut to stay with the Packers, who were debating cutting him. His lack of production over eight seasons was what led the Packers to nearly release him this past offseason. In fact, if Hawk wouldn’t have taken the pay cut, he surely would’ve been let go.
One would have to wonder how different Hawk’s career may have been if he weren’t selected in the first round. The pressure of being a top-five pick is inherently heavy and Hawk has never lived up to that pressure.
Hawk has 522 career tackles, which is just 14th among linebackers since he came into the league in 2006. He also has just 13.5 career sacks, eight interceptions and only 2 forced fumbles in 114 career games — average numbers at best.
After eight seasons in a Packers uniform, Hawk’s career in Green Bay may be coming to an end soon.
You decide, was he worth the fifth pick overall in 2006?