Show the man some love for his consistency on and off the field. Photo Credit: Google

A.J. Hawk continues to struggle eight years into career

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports


A.J. Hawk is one of the most well-known members of the Green Bay Packers in the NFL today.

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.

A.J. Hawk has been a leader on the field and in the locker room. But will he become expendable yet this season? Raymond T. Rivard photograph

A.J. Hawk has been a leader on the field and in the locker room. But will he become expendable yet this season?
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

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?

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  • tech4hire

    Geesh…you “journalist” have nothing better to do than pick on AJ Hawk. If he is so bad, why is he still starting and calling the signals for the defense? Fortunately for the Packers, clowns like you are not in charge because you complain about the steady players and would have the Packers get rid of them all. Hawk was drafted because he is a “football guy” according to TT. True, he isn’t flashy but he is the consumate professional according to his coaches. He is hard nosed like many of the Packers who have gone before him. If the entire defense was as hard nosed, we would have the best defense in the league. Lay off Hawk and go back to covering dog shows or some other bit of tripe.

  • Starr57

    Really Dan?
    Tired of all The “Hawk haters”.
    Led the team or in top 3 in tackles his 1st 3 years.
    Played through injuries in 2009 that would have shelved most other guys. Never missing a start.
    Then in 2010 when lbr’s started dropping like flies, who stepped up, taking over for a once again injured Nick Barnette , playing alongside a bunch of no-name lbr’s, qbing the defense, keeping them together until the so called “SUPERSTAR” could return.
    Let’s fast forward to now, once again, Hawk will be playing alongside, raw, but hopefully talented lbr’s for at least a month, maybe longer. Who knows who the starting lbr’s will be the next few weeks.
    I for one am glad that odds are A.J. Hawk will be there anchoring the middle, calling the plays, making sure the young guys know their responsibilities.
    In retrospect, I wish Ted Thompson would have never draftes A.J. Hawk, tired of writers and fans alike who can’t appreciate a true Professional!!!!
    The importance of a player doesn’t always show up in “stats”.
    Worth the pick and every dollar he has earned in the NFL!!!

    • Kyle

      While I agree with most of what you said, AJ Hawk never quarterbacked the defense until last season… when they started the practice of giving one defensive player an in-helmet ear piece to hear adjustments and such, it was first given to Nick Barnett. When he got hurt, they tried to give it to Hawk… it was unsuccessful. Nick Collins ended up receiving it and it was actually he who served as the adjustment caller and “quarterback” of the defense. And now that Morgan Burnett is back, once again AJ Hawk won’t be fulfilling those duties.

      The man has miles and miles of heart, he plays hurt and he never gives up on a play. That being said, let’s be honest… he can’t cover anyone. Not running backs, slot receivers, full backs or tight ends. He gets burned by all of them. He isn’t quick enough to serve as a “spy” on a running back or quarterback. He reads the run well and he tackles well. That’s great if the rest of your linebackers can cover and/or pass rush, but no one besides Brad Jones is even passable in coverage. I love that he took a pay cut to stay because I love the way he plays. However, he isn’t elite in any facet of the game. I think he has played at the caliber of a second round pick because he doesn’t have the natural speed or game-changing ability to warrant a first round pick, let alone one in the top five.

  • Zach Savage

    He was worth the pick. First 3 years if you had to do the draft over he would have been the number 1 pick. Long term he has not panned out to be great. He’s slow and seems weak. But we could be a lot worse off and we have nobody to replace him with in 8 years.

  • Gbfan2196

    Hawk was worth the pick no doubt I for one would rather have a steady player who dosent ever get sidelined because injury then a player who is above good but then gets hurt then you have to put in someone a whole lot worse. TT likes hawk because he does what they ask him to do TT even said he was worth it. I hate how some people only look at statistics when talking about players.

  • WyomingPackerBacker

    Stick with him — slow and steady beats a flash in the pan.

  • Scott Eastman

    I’m an inspiring commenter. “Follow your dreams.” Or “You can do anything you set your mind to.” Or… Ummm… “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough and, gosh darn it, people like you.” Inspired? No? Alright, I’m gonna go back to watching Rudy. It’s my favorite NORTE Dame football movie.

  • Peter Maiz

    No, I agree with Dan (won’t try to spell his last name). a greater, faster talent at that position would be warranted. Hawk was not warranted a number 5 pick at the draft, especially where speed and greater athleticism and size are needed. If Hawk were so great, they wouldn’t have cut his salary. It is incumbent that every year, each team try to improve positions where weaknesses, what ever minor, are to be found. But Dan….you are in college, therefore, you are an aspiring writer, come down to earth a bit!!

  • Jerbear

    Really? Jabbing at AJ because your feelings are still hurt about the outcome of the OSU vs. Wisconsin game eh? Find a worthy patsy.

  • Sudsman

    As a die-hard Packers fan who knows football – and as a professional writer with more than 20 years’ experience – I must say this article fails on several levels.

    I will agree that Hawk has not really lived up to his status as a #5 overall pick; one typically expects a big playmaker there rather than “sure and steady.” He’s also not great in pass coverage…but that’s about all I’ll give you.

    For starters, Hawk is not small or slow, and I’ve never understood this rub on him. His official size at the combine (where they don’t artificially inflate such things) was 6-1, 248, and his 40 time was 4.59. That’s an excellent combination of size and speed for a linebacker. Maybe he’s a little slower after 8 years as a pro, but that happens. Physically, he is everything you want him to be; in fact, he’s bigger than most ILBs you find in a 3-4, bigger than the typical 4-3 “Tampa 2″ MLB, and right there with the Mikes who take on fullbacks in the traditional 4-3…except faster.

    I’m also trying to figure out where an inside linebacker is “the most important position on the defensive side of the ball.” That’s typically your outside pass rusher (4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB). If you mean the “QB of the defense,” as in the guy who has the helmet headset and gets everyone in position, then that’s Hawk. But he’s not necessarily set up to be the big playmaker. His job, once he sets the defense per Capers’ orders, is to tackle RBs that make it past the line (where he excels) or to cover TEs and RBs in the passing game (where he does not). Worth a top-5 pick? Probably not. But his speed and athleticism (despite what Peter Maiz posted) and other credentials certainly were worthy of a high pick. In retrospect, his instincts have not been as impressive (sorry, Geno, he ain’t Nitschke) and he’s not the take-over-a-game playmaker everyone thought he would be. But he is a true leader and a steady presence in the middle of the defense, his coaches and teammates lean on him a lot, and his willingness to take a pay cut that more reflects his true performance makes him a good value. His days are not “limited”… though your days as a writer certainly are if you don’t clean up a few things.

  • LP54

    What an awful article. It is people like you who spread the wrong impression of Hawk to even more clueless fans. How many downs have you played as a Linebacker? None, right? So what makes you the expert in the matter. I have played the position at a Division 1 level, and have coached the position since at Power House high school programs across the Northeast. If you understood what his position in the defense asks of him (which you clearly don’t) then you would know Hawk is doing just fine. I have been particularly impressed with him this year, he seems to be playing at the same level he was when he bailed our entire defense out in the 2010 SB run. Hawk is the QB and FB of our defense. His job is to take on the blockers and the fullbacks and tackle the running backs, which he does very well. As far as coverage goes, there is a reason he is almost always off the field on third down, it is not his forte. However, Hawk has played tight coverage when he has had to this year and more often than not it is just the offensive player making a good play rather than Hawk lagging in coverage. He represents everything the Packers stand for, he is a tough blue collar class act, who in the past couple of seasons has brought an attitude with him to work every Sunday, probably because of wannabe football expert/stat bitches like you blindly putting him down. Put a helmet on and tell me Hawk isn’t the real deal. He is not Patrick Willis, he is AJ Hawk, and that is just fine for us Packers fans who understand that Hawks job is to create the opportunities for the other ILB (see the rave reviews Desmond Bishop and Brad Jones have received playing alongside AJ). His job is to stick his nose in the other teams business, which there is no stat for, and which he always does.

  • Greg Parke

    so much of what you say is emotionally based talking points. saying hawk is not nfl caliber material isn’t saying much beyond personal opinion…

  • chomba

    He is a much better LB than you are a writer. (translation: He is a much gooder LB then your a righter.)

    Quiz for you: Who was bigger and more athletic coming out of college, AJ Hawk or Clay Matthews?

  • Ken Allen

    Hawk began his career in a positon he wasn’t ready for. He is still a solid performer and runs the defense on the field. Yeah, maybe he’s late to some of the tackles, but the guy is anything but the slug that some people are so fond of making him out to be. I wish people would get off the guy’s case. He even took a reduction in pay to saty with the Packers. Get over it!

  • urb

    AJ Hawk is a great ilb. People who actualy know football can see this. He does all the dirty work inside and continous to be a solid fixture on the Packer defense. I would take AJ Hawk over any of the players mentioned in this article. You g people have so much to learn.

  • shavager

    Haha, with two LB’s out, one for the season, the top defender Matthews out for at least two weeks or so and Brad Jones out with hamstring problems, GB needs players who are durable. ONE player on defense has been durable his entire career–AJ Hawk. Hawk’s NOT a game changing player but that’s not the job Capers has him doing, he’s like a cleanup pitcher in baseball, most plays he’s cleaning up for run plays that get by the line or short pass plays out of backfield or to TE’s. Hawk will be needed to help younger LB’s like Mulumba, Palmer or Barrington who may all see more playing time now. At this point in season, GB’s biggest problem is a 26-27th ranked secondary. With just Hayward missing as starter–this unit should be almost at full strength, yet it’s in the bottom of the league in yardage given up, lack of turnovers. Short of Thompson going to FA for another LB, and we know chances of that are slim, Hawk is here to stay until another LB can prove he can outperform, take over defensive duties from Hawk. IF that player was currently on the roster, he would be starting.

  • Wayne Zeman

    Geno, Geno, Geno. I’ll give the “aspiring” line; good dig. But Hawk reminds you of Ray Nitschke? No way in hell. You completely blow all credibility. Unless your Hawk’s Dad, I can understand, But really, really? No one in history would ever consider comparing Hawk to Nitschke; but you. You are off your rocker, Hawk wouldn’t make a pimple on Nitschke ass! The only reason us “Hawk haters” aren’t on him like in the good old days is because he took that big fat pay cut; he’s no longer making 13.6M a year! He has always been over paid and has ALWAYS under produced. Those are the stats! No offensive coordinator in the league gives a shit about Hawk. No one games plans for him or even considers he’s even out there. He’s a serviceable LB who has never lived up to his draft position. If there was a way we could trade Hawk’s hamstrings for that bad one of Clays….. But Hawk and Nitschke in the same sentence? Get a life Geno. Or should I say Mr. Hawk?

  • Will Discavage

    Yeah, hawk is one of the best players we have on defense his days are not “limited”

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  • Will Discavage

    I bet you feel dumb after hawks performance against the Super Bowl champs

  • Chris

    This is arguably the worst article I’ve ever read. For a few reasons. #1 You say that Big Ten players don’t translate well into the NFL. That’s a load of crap? You actually prove yourself wrong in earlier paragraph when you say that the Packers could have taken Santonio Holmes, Donte Whitner, and Nick Mangold instead…….all Big Ten players. I didn’t realize that Paul Posluszny, Chad Greenway, NaVorro Bowman, and James Laurinaitis were that bad. Considering over the last 3 seasons, those four players were in the Top 6 in tackles in the NFL…..all from the Big Ten. All played during the A.J. Hawk Era of the Big Ten. #2 Your middle linebacker doesn’t have to be Ray Lewis to be effective. You need him to manage the game and not try to play outside of himself. You need him to be around the football. You don’t need him to take chances. That’s where guys like Clay Mathews come into play. You want those guys harrassing the QB, not the middle linebacker. The MLB’s job is to not let RB’s get to the 2nd level. A.J. Hawk does a great job in that. He won’t register a ton of TFL’s or Sacks, but you can count on him to run the defense. There are probably 15-20 other teams in the NFL that would love to see him in their jersey.
    And you really had to go back to the 1970′s to reference a Big Ten bust in Archie Griffin? Even with that, you didn’t do much research because the reason Archie didn’t make it was he had a career ending knee injury within the first couple years in the NFL.
    Let’s call this article what it is….a reach. You’re trying really hard to discredit A.J. Hawk and you’re pulling random statistics out of the air (some that reach back 40 years ago) to prove your point. Maybe instead of watching ESPN’s College Gameday to provide insight, try actually playing a game of football and you’ll understand what guys like A.J. bring to a team.